Los Angeles born artist Kehinde Wiley has developed his career in New York as a portrait artist whose work is being celebrated in an exhibition that recently opened at the Brooklyn Museum. In “A New Republic” his work depicts men and women placed in traditional forms of portraiture fusing that history with a present day aesthetic. It is a revisionist, liberating view of the medium that transforms portraiture from an aristocratic to a pluralistic art form, thereby making the work accessible and relatable. While Wiley is known for his colorful, saturated, and rich tapestry-laden paintings, I really like this bronze that is featured in the exhibit.
The strength and pride radiating from the man emerging from the hoodie is simultaneously a nod to the French neoclassical sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon and an homage to black men. While this piece was cast in 2011, I see it as a commentary on today’s events in so many ways.
In the wake of the Oscars last night I came across this clip of Nina Simone that was quoted during one of the acceptance speeches. It perfectly encapsulates the work of Kehinde Wiley and once again, I find myself wishing I was able to travel to New York to see this important retrospective.