In 2007 artist Kehinde Wiley received voicemails saying that Michael Jackson was trying to reach him. “I ignored them because quite honestly I thought it was a prank” says Wiley. After some further research it turned out the calls were real. Michael Jackson was actually interested in a commissioned piece by Kehinde Wiley.
Wiley mixes images of classical royal portraiture with images of contemporary black culture. In an interview with Anthem Magazine, Wiley described his style and subjects:
“I try to recognize the sacred in the most common places; I just start with an African American community that I belong to. You know, much of what I do is I quote old paintings, and the old paintings are repopulated with young African American men who follow a very straight ahead demographic, between the ages of 18 and 25. It’s obviously a comment on youth culture and it’s a comment on consumption patterns, but it’s also a comment on who gets to be in those sort of important moments in picture making.”
Jackson’s commissioned piece was still in early stages when Wiley learned about his death but chose to move forward with the piece to honor the King of Pop.
After a friend verified the request, Wiley set up a conference call with the performer, which he taped and transcribed. According to the artist:
“He was also very curious about my personal story and surprisingly he was really knowledgeable about art and art history. I’ve done very few commissioned works, so we made arrangements to have certain art historical books sent to him, and he would send me back his preferred pieces.”
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much input as I would have hoped for, but I think it’s something he would have been proud of.”
After speaking with Jackson, Wiley sent him a number of historical paintings to base the painting on.
“I think that his idea of collaborating with me was something that he really wanted to see through,” Wiley said.
The large portrait, which Jackson never saw in its finished form, measures 3.51 (11.5 feet) by 3.1 meters (10.1 feet).
Kehinde Wiley’s Exhibition
February 20–May 24, 2015
Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, 5th Floor
The works presented in Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic raise questions about race, gender, and the politics of representation by portraying contemporary African American men and women using the conventions of traditional European portraiture. The exhibition includes an overview of the artist’s prolific fourteen-year career and features sixty paintings and sculptures.
Wiley’s signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on specific paintings by Old Masters, replacing the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects, drawing attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives.
The exhibition includes a selection of Wiley’s World Stage paintings, begun in 2006, in which he takes his street casting process to other countries, widening the scope of his collaboration.
Read full article of Kehinde Wiley’s exhibition- visit BrooklynMuseum.org
The New York Times – January 28, 2015
ART & DESIGN
Kehinde Wiley began thinking about the stereotypes that shadow black men long before events in Ferguson, Mo., pushed the phrase “unarmed black man” back into the headlines and inaugurated a new wave of the civil rights movement.
“I know how young black men are seen,” he said on a recent winter afternoon in his studio in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. “They’re boys, scared little boys oftentimes. I was one of them. I was completely afraid of the Los Angeles Police Department.” He grew up in South-Central Los Angeles and was 14 when four white police officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of Rodney King; riots flared in the neighborhood.
Now 37, Mr. Wiley is one of the most celebrated painters of his generation. He is known for vibrant, photo-based portraits of young black men (and occasionally women) who are the opposite of scared — they gaze out at us coolly, their images mashed up with rococo-style frills and empowering poses culled from art history. He maintains studios in China and Senegal in addition to New York. As a self-described gay man and the son of an African-American mother and a Nigerian father, he offers a model of the artist as multicultural itinerant.
He’s a brilliant renaissance technician with hip-hop subject matter. His latest work focuses on young black men in a sadly familiar posture: Down. But in a world where bad is good, being down is not always such a bad thing.
The public perception of black male youth has arguably changed since artist Kehinde Wiley began painting his formal portraits while in residency at New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem in 2000. Part of Wiley’s process was lifting his subjects straight from the street and rendering them-complete with sneakers, track pants, tank tops, and team caps-in the visual language of classic European portraiture; the result wasn’t so much brashly iconoclastic as brilliantly inclusive, a mash-up of museum treasure and the urban life outside of its gates. What remains so surprising about these works today is that the 31-year-old Los Angeles native’s black males remain a rarity in the fine-art world, despite their prevalence, even dominance in pop culture. Wiley may have redefined portrait painting for a new century, but he’s still cutting his own path in a field that purports to be progressive….