New-York based Nigerian artist, Kehinde Wiley, has been chosen by Former US president Barack Obama to paint his official portrait for Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The tradition started with George H. Bush, in which an artist is commissioned to create a portrait of the president and the first lady after their tenure.
Though past American leaders had always commissioned 90-year old portrait artist Everett Raymond Kinstler, who has so far painted eight US presidents, but Obama chose to go with Kehinde. This was disclosed in Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s announcement yesterday.
On the other hand, Former first lady Michelle Obama also chose Baltimore-based painter Amy Sherald to paint her portrait, making Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian.
Born to a Nigerian dad and an African-American mom, Kehinde did not grow up with his father, so at the age of 20, he traveled to Nigeria to explore his roots and meet him. His mother supported his interest in art and enrolled him in after-school art classes when he was a child. He earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art in 2001.
Throughout his career, Kehinde has become renowned for creating portraits of African American men, including the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Ice T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Michael Jackson, and more. He is also known for lush, larger-than-life portraits that overlay black street culture with European classical motifs.