Kehinde Wiley: Likenesses

In Time Out, Sophie Fels writes that painter Kehinde Wiley is like the hero of a children�s story. “Wiley grew up as one of six siblings raised with more love than money by a single mom who was an antiques dealer in South Central Los Angeles. His father, who works in architecture, was from Nigeria, and had left Wiley�s mom before he was born. At age 20, Wiley, then studying art in San Francisco, set out for that country�s largest city, Lagos, to find his dad�which he did, remarkably, by asking around. After about a month in Africa, Wiley returned to the U.S., where he started a series of portraits based on his father.

“Since then, likenesses have made Wiley his name. The artist, 31, starts with a striking formula, juxtaposing elements from 18th- and 19th-century portraiture�billowing clouds, shining swords�with the figures of young black men in jeans and athletic jerseys. Currently, his work is installed in the lobby of the Brooklyn Museum and can be seen in a group survey, ‘Recognize!,’ at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. And on Wednesday 16 at Studio Museum in Harlem, Wiley opens ‘The World Stage: Africa, Lagos ~ Dakar,’ a new series he produced in temporary studios in Lagos, and Dakar, Senegal. In these canvases, Wiley placed local subjects against African textiles. ‘It�s taking what he does and moving,’ explains the Studio Museum�s director, Thelma Golden (the subject of one of Wiley�s few renderings of women, where she�s limned Queen Elizabeth I), adding that this new work signals the artist is entering his ‘early midcareer.” Read more.

Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Africa, Lagos ~ Dakar� Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY. Through Oct 26.


  1. I like Kehinde Wiley’s work; it’s vivid and striking, and it’s great to see an African-American artist enjoy success, and a certain mainstream popularity. I wish him well, just a couple of thoughts:

    -Kehinde’s earliest and ongoing subjects, masculine young black men in full hip-hop regalia, bespeaks an erotic attraction on his part (Wiley is quietly gay) that is virtually NEVER mentioned, in any article or interview I have ever read or seen. To me it’s strikingly obvious- he fancies muscular alpha-males for his portraits, at least the anonymous ones. I completely think that that’s wonderful actually- artist’s erotic attraction to subjects is a huge, eternal source of inspiration for artists since time immemorial. But it’s puzzling to me that his paintings’ homoeroticism -as plain as day, to me- goes unremarked upon.

    I imagine it’s a delicate subject- the hip-hop milieu is not gay friendly, and I understand why he’d not speak of it. But art writers have no such restrictions in discussing what’s right there, for all to see.

    – Secondly, I have long heard the rumor that his paintings’ brilliantly colored and intricate backgrounds are outsourced to India- he doesn’t paint them. And after seing his loft on “Art Star”, there’s nary a brush or pallete or tube of paint to be seen. I’m wondering if he even paints the figures himself, at this point. And when he speaks in the article you linked, of establishing multiple studios on multiple continents, i have to wonder about the obvious question- does he even paint the portraits himself at this point? Speaking of having a studio on six continents is very close to boasting of industrializing the creation of his paintings. So a second question begging to be asked, but no one does.

    Does it matter? Are we now unconcerned about a painter, you know, actually making the paintings he or she sells? There used to be a stigma, someone like Kostabi was not held in very high esteem not long ago. But I guess if there’s a successful “brand”, selling well, no one wants to rock the boat.
    But I must admit, it does matter to me. Just MHO.

    Thanks for letting me think aloud. I really like your blog, and enjoyed your articles at the Brooklyn Rail.

  2. Sorry, I deleted my own comments. Basically, what I said was that I’m not aware that there’s a lack of interest in the homoerotic component to Wiley’s work (he’s openly gay), and that images of his studio, brushes, paint, and palette,can be seen in this Giant Magazine slide show.

    And many thanks for the positive feedback on the blog and my articles in The Rail.


    July 13, 2008 3:37 PM

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