More Kehinde Wiley less Dali

27 September 2012

I was once asked “what kind of art interests you?” Pointed question I suppose and depending on the day I might answer differently. But on that very day, instead of answering renaissance or neoclassicism, I said that I was “more Kehinde Wiley” and “less Salvador Dali.” 

The melting clocks, the creepy mustache, ego-to-the-brim, that was Dali. Wiley contrarily embodies every attribute I admire in an artist: attention to intricate detail, hinted humor and provacative perplexity. The man is gifted.

“an infusion of history with the flyboys of the street.”

I was introduced to Kehinde Wiley’s work at the Brooklyn Museum in 2005.  His portrait, “Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps,” hung in the grand entryway, stopping everyone in their tracks as they made their way into museum.  This portrait imitates the posture of the figure of Napoleon Bonaparte in Jacques-Louis David’s painting Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint-Bernard. Wiley upgrades the traditional pony portrait by swapping an unknown young black man dressed in contemporary clothing for the figure of Napoleon.  It’s even better up close:

Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps, 2005 oil on canvas


“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.

What I admire most is his ability to portray these strong, confident men, chests and chin up against a background of blooming cherry blossms, posies and violets. Quite the contrast.

Here are a few of my favorites of his, to which I will own a piece of his genius one day to hang in my own gallery. In the meantime, I’ll busy myself by flipping through the Black Light: coffee table book, with images so vivid they jump off the page.

After Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s “La Roi A La Chasse”, 2009.

After John Singer Sargent’s “The Countess of Rocksavage”, 2009.

Count Potocki, 2008.

Santigold’s “Ain’t Make-Believe” album cover (she’s plays all three people, whaaat!)

the man at work.


Featured Image:  Dee & Ricky.  The boys known for their G-Shock watches and lego brooches. Fun-Fact, we once threw a party together.  Remember that? Don’t worry, another party is in the works.  Stay tuned.


Categories: Art, details

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