Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977)
signed and dated ‘Kehinde Wiley 2015’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
26 ⅜ x 22 in. (67 x 58.4 cm.)
Painted in 2015.
No Commission Art Fair, Miami, December 2015, donated by the artist
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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Lot Essay

“The ability to look at a black America as something that not only can be mined in a very sort of cynical, cold way, but also embraced in a very personal, love-driven way; but also sort of critiqued. And additionally, to be used as a starting point to look at broader pictures globally. The ability to look at certain patterns with regards to urban fashion, with regards to swagger, with regards to cultural hegemony, with regards to the ways in which young people look at resistance culture as a pattern that should be mimicked and admired.” – Kehinde Wiley

Painted in 2015, this intimately-scaled painting is a masterful example of why Kehinde Wiley has become known as one of the greatest portraitists of our lifetime. Wiley’s signature portraits play on paintings by Old Masters, and he replaces the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects. His sitters often wear modern clothing such as baseball caps, sneakers and hoodies, and are typically set against ornate decorative backgrounds that evoke earlier eras and a range of cultures. Wiley does this to draw attention to the absence of African Americans from historical narratives. The artist has stated, “So much of these portraits are about fashioning oneself into the image of perfection that ruled the day in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s an antiquated language, but I think we’ve inherited that language and have forwarded it to its most useful points in the 21st century. My paintings at their best take that vocabulary and attempt to transpose that into a form that gives respect not only to the history of painting but also to those people who look and sound like me” (K. Wiley, quoted in A. Bayly Berman “Oral history interview with Kehinde Wiley,” Washington, 2010). Indeed, in 2017, Wiley was chosen by Barack Obama to paint an official portrait of the former president to appear in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, one of the highest honors of living artists.
In this painting, a young black male looks directly and almost coolly at the viewer. He is set against a luscious, floral backdrop which almost seems to envelop him in the lower half of the painting. Wiley typically finds his subjects through “street casting,” where the artists invites individuals, often strangers he encounters on the street, to sit for portraits. The masculine figures that Wiley chooses juxtapose sharply with the ornately patterned backgrounds, giving the paintings increased depth and meaning. Ultimately, Kehinde Wiley has become a canonized figure in art history whose paintings question subjects such as race, gender and the intricacies of representation.

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