Black American Icons: Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley is a contemporary African American portrait painter known for his powerful, naturalistic paintings. His subjects ae often young black men and women set in a photorealist style against intricate, patterned backgrounds.  Kehinde was born in Los Angeles and is a twin.  He received his BFA from San Francisco Art Institute and MFA from the Yale School of Art.  He has had several successful exhibitions, in which he often raises questions about race, gender, and politics.  His signature portraits often riff on the Old Masters, drawing attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives.  One of the most iconic depictions of this style is the painting Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps based on Napoleon Crossing the Alps, in which the rider wears modern army fatigues and bandana.  Kehinde is one of the biggest names in the art world and was the first African American artist to be commissioned to paint the official presidential portrait of our first African American president, Barrack Obama. His magnificent full-length wall portrait, “Indio Cuauhtemoc (World Stage: Brazil)”,  is currently on display at the Portland Art Museum. “It means something when young African Americans can go into a museum and see someone who looks like themselves,” said Kehinde in an interview last year.  “It gives a sense of ‘I belong to the conversation around power’.”