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Kehinde Wiley

 (born 1977)
Kehinde Wiley is active/lives in New York, California.  Kehinde Wiley is known for African-American male figures in heroic poses.

Kehinde Wiley

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley (born 1977) is a New York-based portrait painter who is known for his highly naturalistic* paintings of people with brown skin in heroic poses. The Columbus Museum of Art, which hosted an exhibition of his work in 2007, describes his work with the following: "Kehinde Wiley has gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture."

Kehinde Wiley was born in Los Angeles, California in 1977. His father is Yoruba from Nigeria, and his mother is African-American. As a child, his mother supported his interest in art and enrolled him in after-school art classes. At the age of 12, he spent a short time at an art school in Russia.

Wiley did not grow up with his father, and at the age of 20 Wiley traveled to Nigeria to explore his roots and meet him. He earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute* in 1999 and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art* in 2001.

He often references Old Masters paintings for the pose of the figure. Wiley’s paintings often blur the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation. Rendered in a realistic mode—while making references to specific Old Master* paintings—Wiley creates a fusion of period styles, ranging from French Rococo*, Islamic architecture and West African textile design to urban hip hop and the "Sea Foam Green" of a Martha Stewart Interiors color swatch.

Wiley's slightly larger than life size figures are depicted in a heroic manner, as their poses connote power and spiritual awakening. Wiley’s portrayal of masculinity is filtered through these poses of power and spirituality.

Wiley's Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005) is based on Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1800) by Jacques-Louis David, often regarded as a "masterpiece", now re-staged by Wiley with an African rider wearing modern army fatigues and a bandanna.

Wiley "investigates the perception of blackness and creates a contemporary hybrid Olympus in which tradition is invested with a new street credibility."

His portraits are based on photographs of young men whom Wiley sees on the street. He painted men from Harlem’s 125th Street, as well as the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood where he was born. Dressed in street clothes, his models were asked to assume poses from the paintings of Renaissance masters, such as Tiziano Vecellio and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Wiley describes his approach as "interrogating the notion of the master painter, at once critical and complicit." Wiley’s figurative paintings "quote historical sources and position young black men within that field of power.” In this manner, Wiley’s paintings fuse history and style in a unique and contemporary manner.

His work is found in many public collections throughout the world, including the Toledo Museum of Art; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia; San Antonio Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Brooklyn Museum; Columbus Museum of Art; the DIA - Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan; Kansas City Museum; Oak Park Public Library in Oak Park, Illinois; Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, New York; The Jewish Museum (New York) in New York, New York; High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia; Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona; Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California; Hammer Museum, in Los Angeles, California; Milwaukee Art Museum; Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina, Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, North Carolina, and Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Wiley had a retrospective in 2016 at Seattle Art Museum.
Recognition and honors

In October 2011, Wiley received the Artist of the Year Award from the New York City Art Teachers Association/United Federation of Teachers. He also received Canteen Magazine's Artist of the Year Award. Two of Wiley's paintings were featured on the top of 500 New York City taxi cabs in early 2011 as a collaboration with the Art Production Fund.

Wiley is featured in a commercial on the USA as a 2010 Character Honoree. Puma AG commissioned Wiley to paint four portraits of prominent African soccer players. Patterns from his paintings were incorporated into Puma athletic gear. The complete series, Legends of Unity: World Cup 2010, was exhibited in early 2010 at Deitch Projects in New York City.

His work was exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Recognize exhibit in 2008. Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, a retrospective at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, VA), in the summer of 2016 (June 11-September 5) assembled nearly 60 of his paintings and sculptures.


    •    2015–2017: Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at the Brooklyn Museum (2015), Brooklyn, NY; traveled to Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX (2016); Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (2016); Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA (2016); Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ (2016); Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH (2017)

    •    2013: The World Stage: Jamaica at Stephen Freidman Gallery, London, UK

    •    2013: Kehinde Wiley: Memling at Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ

    •    2011–2013: The World Stage: Israel at Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA; traveled to Jewish Museum (New York) (2012); the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA (2013); Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID (2013)

    •    2012: The World Stage: France at Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, France

    •    2012: An Economy of Grace at Sean Kelly, New York, NY

    •    2011: Kehinde Wiley: Selected Works at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum of Art, Savannah, GA

    •    2010: The World Stage: India, Sri Lanka at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL

    •    2010: Legends of Unity | World Cup 2010 | PUMA, several locations worldwide

    •    2009: Black Light at Deitch Projects, New York, NY

    •    2009: The World Stage: Africa at ArtSpace, San Antonio, TX

    •    2009: The World Stage: Brazil at Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, CA

    •    2008: Three Wise Men Greeting Entry Into Lagos at (PAFA) Pennsylvania Academy Of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

    •    2006: Willem van Heythuysen at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA

    •    2006: Kehinde Wiley: Columbus at the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH

"Kehinde Wiley," Wikipedia, Feb. 2017

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Kehinde Wiley
A photorealist painter, Kehinde Wiley is inspired by Renaissance paintings and late European portraits. He takes these influences and fuses them with casually dressed African-American men posing similar to prophets, saints and angels.  Artists he draws inspiration from include Raphael, Titian, Tiepolo, Gainsborough, Ingres and Sargent.

He begins by approaching African-American men in Harlem, asks permission to paint them, shows them his work, the subject can then choose a painting he would like to imitate.

His first solo museum show, featuring 18 large-scale paintings, was at the Brooklyn Museum. In 2008, the Studio Museum in Harlem held a solo exhibition of his work, which was ten canvases from his series "The World Stage", 2006.  "He casts himself as an anthropologist and moves to various cities in order to parse the local customs." 

Young black males are placed against richly patterned backgrounds and "borrow poses" from local statuary.  . . ."the men enjoy sumptuous features, wear beads and sportswear, and make eyes at their audience." (Bentley)

In 2016, President Barack Obama chose Kehinde Wiley to do his official portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Lewis, Sarah, "De(i)fying the Masters" Art in America, April 2005
Kyle Bentley, "Previews: Kehinde Wiley", ARTFORUM, May 2008

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About  Kehinde Wiley

Born:  1977 - Los Angeles, California
Known for:  African-American male figures in heroic poses