The Empirical Work of Kehinde Wiley
Blending Contemporary Figures in Traditional Settings
Read more about the success and controversy of Kehinde Wiley’s work:
Instantly recognizable. Bold. Big. Really big. Colorful. These are some of the ways people describe the work of painter Kehinde Wiley.
Well, we shouldn’t just label him as a painter. He also sculpts and works in stained glass. Whatever medium is right for the image, he seems able to use it.
His works have been featured on the television program “Empire”, bringing him more attention than even his bold paintings would have otherwise. His paintings, which typically feature young black men, although not exclusively so, placed in an old European traditional setting. Sort of.
My love affair with painting is bittersweet. I love the history of art. It was only later that I understood that a lot of destruction and domination had to occur in order for all of this grand reality to exist. So what happens next? What happens is the artist grows up and tries to fashion a world that’s imperfect. Tries to say yes to the parts that he loves, and to say yes to the parts that he wants to see in the world, such as black and brown bodies — like my own — in the same vocabulary as that tradition that I had learned so many years before.
It’s an uncomfortable fit, but I don’t think that it’s something that I’m shying away from at all. In fact, I think what we’re arriving at is the meat of my project, which is that discomfort is where the work shines best. These inconvenient bedfellows that you’re seeing all over this museum are my life’s work.
The backgrounds are like bold tapestries. The poses are traditional. But the people in the paintings are wearing contemporary clothing, with brand names and labels clearly visible.
Not all of his paintings are of this style. One of his most controversial, called “Mug Shot” is based on a mug shot that he found crumpled on the sidewalk in Harlem. This inspired him to think about portraiture.
With all of his paintings he combines a knowledge of art, art history, and what it feels like to be a black man in America today.
Original article with interview by Audie Cornish can be read on NPR
Painting by Kehinde Wiley