40 year-old New York-based artist, born to a Nigerian father and an African American mother, Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of former U.S President Barack Obama, has finally been unveiled.
Obama’s portrait painted by Kehinde Wiley who is best known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings of African-Americans, was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery alongside that of former first lady Michelle Obama.
Recall that in October 2017, there was a viral report that revealed that at the end of each U.S presidency, the National Portrait Gallery partners with the White House to commission one official portrait each of the president and the first lady. The two sets of official portraits (one for the White House and one for the National Portrait Gallery) are financed through private funds and have been a tradition beginning with former President George H.W. Bush.
On the other hand, the gallery commissioned Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, first-prize winner of the Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, for Michelle Obama’s portrait.
The paintings were revealed Monday at the gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian group of museums. The gallery has a complete collection of presidential portraits.
“How about that? That’s pretty sharp,” said Obama, who described the art as “extraordinary”. He said: “It’s my great honor to be here. It means so much to us.”
Wiley, a Los Angeles native, is world-renowned for his portraits of young black men adorned in the latest in hip-hop street style. The artist has painted portraits of influential hip-hop figures such as the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Ice T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Michael Jackson, among others.
Wiley was born in Los Angeles, California in 1977. His father is Ibibio from Akwa Ibom State.
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 traveled to Nigeria to explore his roots and meet him. Wiley earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art in 2001.