Kehinde Wiley, Obama Painter, Is Taking His Art Everywhere

04:12 May 19, 2023

Kehinde Wiley, Obama Painter, Is Taking His Art Everywhere

Kehinde Wiley is a well-known and influential American artist. His paintings and sculptures are the subject of art shows around the United States.

The 46-year-old Wiley seems especially busy right now. His work is currently on display at shows on both the East and West coasts of the U.S. He has another show in Paris, France. And he is expanding artistic bases in Africa.

Wiley shot to fame outside of the art world a few years ago, after he painted an official presidential portrait. It was historic. Wiley was the first Black artist to be commissioned for the work. He painted America’s first Black president, Barack Obama.

In Wiley’s painting, Obama sits in a simple chair, his arms crossed, his body leaned a bit forward. Surrounding him is a colorful explosion of natural elements, like flowers and greenery. It was a powerful and untraditional representation for an historic presidency.

Wiley said he is very proud of that work, noting the importance of that time in history.

“I wonder if I will ever be able to do anything that lives up to the gravity of that moment,” he said. “Everybody wants to be seen in a number of different contexts ... but I mean, what a great project to be involved in.”

There is no shortage of new projects for Wiley. In March, Wiley was at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, California, for the U.S opening of Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence. It is a powerful mix of some of Wiley’s huge paintings and sculptures that explore anti-Black violence worldwide. The museum has set up quiet spaces for attendees who need a break from the intensity of the show.

On the other side of the country, Wiley also recently opened his show HAVANA at New York City's art space Sean Kelly. The show centers on circus performers and carnival street dancers in Cuba.

In between, the artist traveled to Africa. He is building an artist center in Calabar, Nigeria. Black Rock Nigeria will be his second artist center on the continent. Wiley is also at work on a new portrait show that centers on Black heads of state. That show is to open in September at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

Wiley describes a kind of rhythm to his moving about the planet, visiting “extraordinary” places. He said he is always “hungry for new experiences."

HAVANA, Wiley’s show in New York, closes June 17. San Francisco’s Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence will run through October 15.

I’m Caty Weaver.

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