About us
Artists Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Photo

Kehinde Wiley

American Painter

Born: 1977 - Los Angeles, California

Kehinde Wiley Timeline

Quotes

"I like the fact that painting is portable - and I've wanted my entire life to be able to see the world, to respond to it, and make that my life's work."
Kehinde Wiley
"There's something really special about a sexual relationship where you're bound with each other for years and you start to see the world through each other's eyes. It's something that rarely gets talked about in conversations about art. Most people talk about artists as the sole individual makers of ideas, the genius that interfaces with the culture. And it's actually a lot more collaborative than that."
Kehinde Wiley
"I want to create paintings that are mysterious and snarky, but I also want to make paintings that are sincere and able to change the world."
Kehinde Wiley
"What my goal is is to allow the world to see the humanity that I know personally to be the truth."
Kehinde Wiley
"The world's a scary place. The role of an artist is to look at that world as it is and to imagine alternate possibilities but also to heighten what actually is."
Kehinde Wiley
"Painting is about the world that we live in. Black men live in the world. My choice is to include them. This is my way of saying yes to us."
Kehinde Wiley
"I often see my works in collectors' homes, in these expensive mansions all over the world, and oftentimes [the people in the paintings] are the only black people in the room,"
Kehinde Wiley

"My work is not about paint. It's about paint at the service of something else. It is not about gooey, chest-beating, macho '50s abstraction that allows paint to sit up on the surface as subject matter about paint."

Synopsis

Kehinde Wiley is a young, African-American painter who is quite literally changing the face(s) of portraiture with his sensitive, vibrant, and political portrayals of black folk, ranging from teenagers he meets on the streets, to fellow contemporary artists, and even former president Barack Obama.

Wiley made a name for himself for his naturalistic, brightly colored portraits of young black men, often with dramatic flowery backgrounds. With black masculinity often framed as synonymous with fear and violence in the USA, his generous and vibrant portraits challenge viewers' preconceptions of their subjects and bring young men, and people, of color into the galleries and museums they are so woefully underrepresented in.

Key Ideas

Wiley's work falls into the category of Identity Politics, which is art, film, and writing, which deals primarily with aspects of the artist's identity, for example race, gender, and sexuality. It is vitally important to Wiley that black people, especially black American men, are both the subjects and the audience of his paintings. At a time when young black men are constantly vilified in the press and mainstream media, and even murdered on the street by racist policemen, Wiley's portraits are an essential document of the power, fashion, versatility and beauty of the black community in the USA.
Wiley talks about portraiture and the "field of power", referring to the way that painted portraits of people indicates that they are powerful, but also that portraits hold the potential to give power to those who are painted in this way, turning traditional portrait painting upside down.
In 1975, Laura Mulvey put forward the idea of the "male gaze", that images of women are produced to be static objects for men to look at. bell hooks challenged Mulvey by pointing out that race was totally absent from Mulvey's argument and that black men are excluded (in that they are punished for looking at white women) as well as black women (in that they are never beautiful enough to be objects of desire). bell hooks put forward the idea of the "oppositional gaze" where black subjects interrupt white looks, and thus white power. Wiley's subjects often embody this oppositional gaze, and successfully challenge comfortable white modes of looking and being looked at, in a way that is unique and hugely important in decolonizing the Western art canon.
Wiley often appropriates, or re-uses, recognizable art history images and tropes, such as portraits of Napoleon, heroic sea paintings, and traditional nudes. He does this as a way to critique art historical norms - the way we almost only see white people painted by other white people when we look at painting - and to use pre-existing tools to elevate black folk to the important positions inhabited by these white people of art history.
As a gay black man, it is important for Wiley to reposition black male bodies as objects of desire, eroticism, and vulnerability, as opposed to fear, strength and violence. Black gay men are often doubly victimised in society, and Wiley's purposeful queering of recognizable images; his use of flowers; and camp, playful portraits are all important contributions to what queer black art can look like in America, and the importance of blackness to queerness, and visa versa.

Biography

Kehinde Wiley Photo

Childhood

Kehinde Wiley was born and grew up in South-central Los Angeles with an African-American mother, Freddie Mae Wiley, and a Yoruba father from Nigeria, Isaiah D. Obot, who came to the United States as a scholarship student and then returned to Africa after finishing his studies, leaving Wiley's mother to raise their six children. When Wiley was a child, his mother recognized his artistic talent, saying that he could reproduce anything he saw by drawing, and she enrolled him and his twin brother in after-school art classes at the age of 11. Wiley says, "She wanted us to stay away from gang culture; the sense that most of my peers would end up either dead or in prison was a very real thing. So we were on buses doing five-hour round trips every weekend to go study art. That was a huge pain in the ass. My brother ended up in love with medicine and literature and business - he's in real estate and finance now. But me, I really got the art bug."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Kehinde Wiley Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Kehinde Wiley
Interactive chart with Kehinde Wiley's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Joshua ReynoldsJoshua Reynolds
Thomas GainsboroughThomas Gainsborough
TitianTitian
Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresJean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Personal Contacts

Ai WeiweiAi Weiwei
Kerry James Marshall
Yinka Shonibare

Movements

The BaroqueThe Baroque
NeoclassicismNeoclassicism

Influences on Artist
Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley
Years Worked: 1998 - Present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

JP Mika
Peju Alatise

Personal Contacts

Kerry James Marshall
Yinka Shonibare
Mickalene ThomasMickalene Thomas

Movements


If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]