3 portraits to see this winter in Los Angeles

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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.

The official portraits of President Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

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.

Barak Obama by artist Kehinde Wiley

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.

Michele Obama by artist Amy Sherald

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.”

Source: https://npg.si.edu/learn/classroom-resource/michelle-obama

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.”

Blue Boy by artist Thomas Gainsborough

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. 

A Portrait of a Young Gentleman by artist Kehinde Wiley

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

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment and share it with an art lover.

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