Celebrating Black Visual Artists: Kehinde Wiley

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Kehinde Wiley. (Photo credit: Matthew Niederhauser/Institute)

If you’ve ever seen an episode of Empire, then you’ve seen a Kehinde Wiley. And if you’re anything like me, then you completely ignored whatever was going on with Cookie and Lucious to focus on the sheer beauty of the portrait. A Kehinde Wiley portrait is unforgettable. Larger than life. Bold, deep, rich. Noble. Heroic. Graceful. Magnificent.

Kehinde Wiley, a Los Angeles native born to a Nigerian (Yoruba) father and an African-American mother, first took an interest in art at a very young age. He attended art school at the age of 11, frequented local museums and then went on to study at Art Institute of San Francisco before earning his MFA at Yale. It was on the streets of New York, where Wiley settled, that the artist first found the subjects for his first portraits.

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Kern Alexander Study I, 2011

These subjects are young, unapologetic African American men. Alpha males. Strolling along in their standard street gear with the quintessential swag that causes many folks in foreign lands to view American culture through the lens of the Black American experience. Wiley combined this energy with the inspiration he received from Classical European paintings of nobility. Often the subjects are posed exactly like the poses found in Old Master paintings–and it’s this juxtaposition that makes these paintings so remarkable to me. Yes, they are visually spectacular to both the avid art student and the layperson who’s never heard of High Renaissance or French Rococo. But to me, they specifically say to every young person of color, “I see you. You are beautiful. You are extraordinary. You are royalty.”

Through his art, Wiley has given this same nod to subjects found on the streets of Brazil, Nigeria, Israel, Sri Lanka, China and Senegal. Now he’s painting women. To say I’d LOVE to have my very own Wiley portrait is a severe understatement.

To learn more about Kehinde Wiley and his artwork, click here.

3 thoughts on “Celebrating Black Visual Artists: Kehinde Wiley

  1. Sherice James says:

    I have to admit that I didn’t notice the art in the background, but now I’m going to check out the re-runs just so I can check it out. Love it!

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