Friday, 17 August, 2018

I like the Obama portraits

Image National Portrait, Smithsonian Institution Image National Portrait, Smithsonian Institution
Glenn Montgomery | 14 February, 2018, 19:50

40-year-old New York-based Nigerian artist, Kehinde Wiley is the man behind the newly unveiled portrait of former USA president, Barack Obama.

The paintings were revealed Monday at the gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian group of museums. These are not your mama's portraits, in other words.

Wrapped in symbolism, both political and historical, the portraits of former President Barack Obama and former Prime Minister Michelle Obama were included in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery on Tuesday, generating critical acclaim and strong reactions as mixed public on social networks. Some, like New York's Jerry Saltz, found Wiley's decision to enmesh the president in a "highly colorful natural setting" gave his Obama "a mysteriously human presence".

Together Wiley and Obama went through art history books, looking at body language and backdrops.

"The former first lady's gaze is steady and direct, her hair loose around her face, and her pose is framed by her bare arms". Not only is it the first African American presidential couple in its gallery but was created by the first black artists to ever paint the presidents for its institution.

Controversy surrounding Kehinde Wiley's wildly non-traditional portrait of the Commander-in-Chief broke out within minutes of its unveiling; with industry insiders claiming the artist secretly inserted his trademark technique-concealing images of sperm within his paintings. The artist has described the influence that black and white photography has had on her style of portraiture.

Image National Portrait, Smithsonian Institution
Image National Portrait, Smithsonian Institution

I admire the statement the Obamas made by choosing Wiley and Sherald.

"Sherald uses greyscale to paint skin tone in order to take away 'color, ' so her subjects can be seen for their personality and presence", Bennett wrote on Twitter.

The Obama's portraits will hang in the gallery, which has been gathering presidential portraits for 50 years, said David Skorton, the 13th secretary of the Smithsonian. "These artists were commissioned... because of how they work and a particular viewpoint". One wonders what the sitter divulged to the portraitist, who has experienced her own trials-deaths in the family, a heart transplant.

"I wasn't sure what to make of Baltimore artist Amy Sherald's Michelle Obama, either". So one of them seems grounded while the other is up for grabs, while some of the femininity hidden within the folds of the first lady's dress has magically reappeared in the refulgent floral world of the president's portrait.

"I had to explain that I've got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon", he said.

The paintings cost $500,000 - and some believe Michelle Obama's portrait doesn't even look like her.

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