” Painting is about the world we live in. Black people live in the world. My choice is to include them. This is my way of saying yes to us”
Kehinde Wiley, the New York residing, Los Angeles based portrait painter renowned for his modern day depictions of old master and renaissance paintings with brown skinned men and women of contemporary times, has a new exhibit on display at the Brooklyn Museum called A New Republic, pulling pieces from series such as The World Stage and Down to name a few.
This new exhibit covers the expanse of the 14 year career of the acclaimed artist. The 60-some pieces on display characterize the ideology that Blacks do have a place in the world of art as subjects of power, prestige and honor – ideas that were not common in the days of many, if not most of the paintings recreated by Wiley since 2001. Paintings such as Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Saint-Bernard by Jacques-Louis David, Femme piquée par un serpent (Woman bitten by a snake)by Auguste Clesinger or The White Slave by Jean Lecombte du Nouy, rarely if ever represented people of color in a favorable light in portraiture. Many of the subjects were approached by Mr. Wiley and asked to participate in having their portrait painted in the likeness of a classical painting of their choice, thus enabling them to have power over their representation. The subjects, clad in urban clothing, streetwear and everyday casual attire and even some women in Givenchy dresses, are set against the backdrops of floral designs and elaborate patterns. Interestingly enough, Wiley never had painted women before his series An Economy of Grace, which is included in this exhibit.
There are also small-scale portraits of young black men posed such as Byzantine, Enlightenment and Renaissance-era aristocracy. Wiley also has introduced paintings of men within stained glass as well as sculptures in bronze. Accompanying each picture is a short essay of Wiley’s work, the actual picture and its history. Especially important to Wiley is the portrayal of both the positive and negative of being Black or Brown in todays society, whether that be in Harlem, Jamaica, Israel or Haiti, to name a few of the places where Wiley interacted with potential subjects. Being the son of a African-American woman, a Yoruban father from Nigeria and a gay man, his experiences, inhibitions and subdued flamboyance of being young, black and a polarizing figure in the consciousness of white America, come out in each piece.