African-American Artist Kehinde Wiley Tells GQ “The History Of Art Has Ignored Black Faces,” His Quest To Change All That And Why He Ignored Michael Jackson’s Initial Requests

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Someone we actually like

GQ has just just dropped a gem in the form of an article from its April issue on GQ.com about African-American portrait painter Kehinde Wiley, who is famed for using some of hip-hop and pop music’s biggest names in his art. In the full piece, GQ’s Wyatt Mason tags along with Wiley to witness first hand how he approaches creating his works (which have included the likenesses of LL Cool J, Notorious B.I.G., Ice-T, and Michael Jackson), and learns more about what Wiley is hoping to achieve through his art, which specializes in inserting “brown faces” (both famous and non-famous) into the Western art that he feels they have long been absent from.

Some excerpts via GQ below:

Kehinde Wiley on what his portrait work offers his subjects:

The history of art, Wiley argues, has ignored brown faces, consigning them to tiny parts in thebackgrounds: slaves, footmen, fallen combatants. Wiley is aiming to give them their aesthetic due, country by country. “Andy Warhol said that we would all have our fifteen minutes,” Wiley has said, with pugilistic bravado. “F*ck the fifteen minutes. I’m going to give you a painting, and I’ll make you live forever.” A self-styled Noah in this biblical epic, Wiley has been called by calamity—the world’s museums, flooded with whiteness—to bring the art world a salvational brownness. It’s an argument he’s bet his career on. It’s an argument he’s winning.

…on having ignored calls from Michael Jackson for a long time regarding a commission:

“I ignored him, because quite honestly I thought it was a prank. Surprisingly, he was really knowledgeable about art and art history.”

GQ’s Wyatt Mason on how Wiley finds his subjects:

[Wiley] draws the majority of his subjects from the streets, soliciting the interest of strangers in becoming paintings. That practice began in earnest in Harlem when Wiley was just out of Yale. He received a yearlong residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The neighborhood was filled with faces and bodies that spoke to Wiley, and so he talked to them, inviting them back to his studio, where he posed them, shot them, and painted them—the personal process that he’s since expand to global scale.

So, are you a fan? Why or why not?

Martin Schoeller / GQ

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