b. 1977, United States

Kehinde Wiley Artworks

Kehinde Wiley's portraits draw attention to the representation of race and gender in art, stressing the absence of black figures in the history of Western portraiture.

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His works depict contemporary brown and black sitters, ranging from strangers he met on the streets to well-known personalities like soccer stars Samuel Eto'o, John Mensah, and Emmanuel Eboué; musicians Michael Jackson and Notorious B.I.G.; and even the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, whom he was commissioned to paint for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 2018.

Kehinde Wiley Portraits

Wiley began painting his signature portraits in 2001, while residing in New York as part of a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem that involved inviting strangers he encountered on the streets back to his studio.

Imitating selected postures from historical paintings, his models posed for photographs that he would use to make his paintings. As a foil to the common association of young African American men with violence and antisocial behaviour in American popular culture, his larger-than-life portraits celebrate the sitters' youth, stature, and status within their communities.

Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps

Among the most iconic of Wiley's portraits is Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005), based on Jacques-Louis David's equestrian portrait First Consul, crossing the Alps at Great St Bernard Pass, 20 May 1800 (1803).

In his version, Wiley replaces Napoleon and his 19th-century military regalia with an anonymous black man dressed in a bandana, cargo pants, and Timberland boots. Behind the figure, the grand Alps becomes a decorative background rendered in a colour palette of red and gold.

Tiny sperm were also included as relief forms in the frame—a satire on the tradition of propagating masculine power and privilege in Western portraiture through devices such as equestrian figures and military gear. Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps belongs to 'Rumors of War' (2005), a painting series that focusses on equestrian portraits.

Studio

Due to the increased demand for his paintings, which are often several metres tall and densely ornate, Wiley works with a team of assistants—a studio system that hails back to the days of Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Rubens, further extending the artist's appropriation of canonical art forms and modes of working.

In 2006, the artist opened another studio in Beijing after visiting a friend there and finding himself drawn to the city for its distance from New York.

Portrait of Barack Obama

Wiley, along with Amy Sherald, became the first African American artists to paint the official portraits for a President or First Lady of the USA with their portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama in 2018. Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, Wiley's President Barack Obama shows the former USA president seated in a chair, surrounded by green foliage and flowers that symbolise a portion of Obama's life.

The painting has since attracted thousands of visitors to the gallery, and in 2021 The Obama Portraits Tour travelled to seven cities from Chicago to Boston, returning to Washington, D.C., in November.

The World Stage

Since 2007, Wiley has extended his street casting globally with the series 'The World Stage' (2007–ongoing), for which he travels to different countries—including Brazil, France, Haiti, Jamaica, and Sri Lanka—and asks young black and brown people living there to model for him.

In the paintings belonging to this series, his characteristic brightly coloured backgrounds are adorned with motifs borrowed from different visual cultures. For example, West African kaftan, which are known for their often colourful and complex designs, inspired the intricate backgrounds in the 'Lagos & Dakar' (2008) paintings, while the architectural form in the portrait Alios Itzhak from 'Israel' (2011) is derived from a Jewish decorative plaque known as mizrah.

The history of each sitter's country also influenced their poses as in the historic propaganda posters from the Cultural Revolution that inspired 'China' (2007). One painting from the series, Celebrating with Great Joy and Enthusiasm the Publication of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China (2007), shows a young man dressed in hip-hop-style attire lifting a bundle of lilies over his head, a composition based on a poster in which a young woman similarly holds flowers before red flags.

Women

As part of his growing range of represented subjects, Wiley has begun to depict women. The series 'An Economy of Grace' (2012) consists solely of portraits of African American women wearing custom-made couture gowns (created by the Italian fashion designer Riccardo Tisci) against brightly coloured floral backgrounds.

The paintings are similar in composition to historical portraits featuring female subjects by European painters. Juliette Recamier (2012), for example, depicts an African American woman reclining on a long sofa and is based on David's Madame Récamier (1800).

Two paintings in the series, titled Judith and Holofernes and Judith Beheading Holofernes (both 2012), reference the biblical story of Judith, in which Judith lures an adversary into her tent to behead him. A popular subject in European art history, numerous artists, including Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi, have represented this story. In Wiley's treatment, a black woman with a knife holds the severed head of Holofernes, depicted as a white woman.

In 2018, in light of the unveiling of his Obama portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, The North Carolina Museum of Art promoted Judith and Holofernes (which it had purchased in 2012) for viewing, and the artwork received some backlash from viewers who regarded it as racist.

Sculpture

Beyond portraiture, Wiley also examines the Western tradition of sculpture.

The artist first worked with sculpture in 2006 for his collaboration with Cerealart in Philadelphia, creating three busts in cast marble and resin. They depict young black men dressed in contemporary clothes, with their postures based on Baroque and Renaissance artworks including the Italian sculptor Bernini's Bust of Louis XIV (1665) and French artist Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux's Why born a slave! (1872).

In September 2019, Wiley unveiled his first public artwork in titled Rumors of War (2019): an equestrian statue of a young black man conceived in response to various Confederate monuments in the United States. After its debut in Times Square, New York, it was permanently installed in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2020.

Death

Wiley's solo exhibition An Archaeology of Silence at de Young Museum, San Francisco (2023) revisits the iconography of death in Western art, reflecting on the police killings of Black people in recent years and the worldwide rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Among the new large-scale paintings and sculptures is a 2021 bronze sculpture that lends its name to the exhibition, depicting the body of a young man draped over a horse.

Browse Artworks
The Virgin Martyr St. Cecilia II by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting
Kehinde Wiley The Virgin Martyr St. Cecilia II, 2009 Oil on canvas
50 x 100 cm
Zemack Contemporary Art Request Price & Availability
Portrait of Ya Fatu Conteh by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting
Kehinde Wiley Portrait of Ya Fatu Conteh, 2023 Oil on canvas
243.84 x 182.88 cm
Roberts Projects Request Price & Availability
Alexander I, Emperor of Russia by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting
Kehinde Wiley Alexander I, Emperor of Russia, 2013 Oil on canvas
208.91 x 173.99 cm
Zemack Contemporary Art Request Price & Availability
Triple Portrait of Charles II by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Kehinde Wiley Triple Portrait of Charles II, 2008 Oil on canvas
213.4 x 243.8 cm
Robilant+Voena Request Price & Availability
Portrait of Denola Grey by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Kehinde Wiley Portrait of Denola Grey, 2023 Oil on linen
96 x 72 inches
Roberts Projects Request Price & Availability
The Virgin Martyr Cecilia by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork sculpture
Kehinde Wiley The Virgin Martyr Cecilia, 2022 Bronze
29 x 107 x 52 cm
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Templon
Mr. Walter Strickland by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Kehinde Wiley Mr. Walter Strickland, 2016–2017 Oil on canvas
183 x 152.4 cm
Templon Request Price & Availability
Portrait of Alimatou Diop by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Kehinde Wiley Portrait of Alimatou Diop, 2020 Oil on linen
182.9 x 152.9 cm
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Roberts Projects
Portrait of Harper Watters by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting
Kehinde Wiley Portrait of Harper Watters, 2019 Oil on linen
233.7 x 175.3 cm
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Roberts Projects
Smile by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork print, moving image
Kehinde Wiley Smile, 2016 Digital video, 90 minutes colour
Roberts Projects Request Price & Availability
Portrait of Tunji Adeniyi-Jones by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting
Kehinde Wiley Portrait of Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, 2023 Oil on linen
243.8 x 162.6 cm
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Sean Kelly
Misahel Hernández Study by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Kehinde Wiley Misahel Hernández Study, 2023 Oil on paper
111.8 x 76.2 cm
Sean Kelly Request Price & Availability
Juan Cabrera Pulido Study by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Kehinde Wiley Juan Cabrera Pulido Study, 2023 Oil on paper
114.3 x 78.7 cm
Sean Kelly Request Price & Availability
Jorge Gonzales Acosta Study by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Kehinde Wiley Jorge Gonzales Acosta Study, 2023 Oil on paper
111.8 x 76.2 cm
Sean Kelly Request Price & Availability
Portrait of Tarek Ali Ellis and Michael Morgan by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Kehinde Wiley Portrait of Tarek Ali Ellis and Michael Morgan, 2023 Oil on linen
304.2 x 216.3 cm
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Sean Kelly
Portrait of Najee Hall II by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting
Kehinde Wiley Portrait of Najee Hall II, 2022 Oil on linen
241.3 x 175.3 cm
Sean Kelly Request Price & Availability
Equestrian Portrait of Philip III by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting
Kehinde Wiley Equestrian Portrait of Philip III, 2016 Oil on canvas
289.6 x 302.3 cm
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Sean Kelly
Wanda Crichlow (Portrait of Catharina Both van der Eem) by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting
Kehinde Wiley Wanda Crichlow (Portrait of Catharina Both van der Eem), 2015 Oil on canvas
182.9 x 152.4 cm
Sold
Sean Kelly
Dogon Couple II by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Kehinde Wiley Dogon Couple II, 2013 Oil on canvas
182.9 x 182.9 cm
Sold
Sean Kelly
Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork painting
Kehinde Wiley Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, 2012 Oil on linen
243.8 x 182.9 cm
Sold
Sean Kelly
Rumors of War by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork sculpture
Kehinde Wiley Rumors of War, 2019 Patinated bronze with stone pedestal
835.3 x 776.9 x 481.6 cm
Sean Kelly Request Price & Availability
Rumors of War by Kehinde Wiley contemporary artwork sculpture
Kehinde Wiley Rumors of War, 2019 Patinated bronze
134.6 x 162.6 x 61 cm
Sean Kelly Request Price & Availability
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