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This winter, celebrate portraiture with a series of paintings from LA native artist Kehinde Wiley, and Amy Sherald.
“The Obama Portraits Tour” – LACMA
The official portraits of President Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are now on view in Los Angeles.
Breaking with conventional and traditional Presidential portraits, artist Kehinde Wiley depicted the 44th President sitting in a casual pose. The colorful and flowerful background references Obama’s history.
The African blue lilies refer to his Kenyan father, the jasmine to his childhood in Hawaii, and the chrysanthemums to his life in Chicago.
Michele Obama’s portrait was painted by artist Amy Sherald. The portrait is symbolic: the first African American First Lady poses in a long dress with visual reference to the quilts of Gee’s Bend. Back in 1930, Gee’s Bend was a community in Alabama where some African American women started to create distinctive quilts style.
Another specificity of this portrait is Michele Obama’s skin. The grey tones question color skin, race, and humanity. It’s also a reference to 19e century white and black photography.
Michelle Obama said: “I’m also thinking about all the young people—particularly girls and girls of color—who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”
Note: To complement the Obama Portraits, the LACMA showcases a new exhibit “Black American Portraits” including more than 150 artworks.
Location: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
–> On view through January 2nd, 2022
“A Portrait of a Young Gentleman” – The Huntington Library
To celebrate the centennial acquisition of the “Blue Boy” by Thomas Gainsborough, the Huntington Library commissioned “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman.”
Young artist Kehinde Wiley took art classes at The Huntington and was impressed by the Grand Manner portraits. With this new portrait, he revises and challenges the Huntington Library’s masterpiece. “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” is a contemporary response to “Blue Boy.” A black model is confident and poses in a modern outfit: a black cap, a white apple watch, and black Vans shoes.
Look closely at both paintings to see a parallel in the posture, accessories, and clothes.
Location: The Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA
–> On view through January 2nd, 2022 [ it will be added to the permanent collection after a national tour]
About the artists
LA native artist Kehinde Wiley glorifies marginalized black models using grand manner stylistic. This technic highlights the wealth and the status of the model. He also focuses on traditional and contemporary representations challenging our conventional views of power.
Artist Amy Sherald focuses on African American representation and history. She uses the “grisaille” technique [change colored skins in grey] to challenge our human perception. She was inspired by family white and black photography.
Ready to explore Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s portraits?
*COVID-19 update as of November 2021*
– Please wear a mask and practice a physical distance of 6 feet between yourself and others
– Please check L.A County’s health and safety protocols before your visit
Article based on my visit in October and November 2021
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