Michelle Obama Wasn’t A Fan Of Kehinde Wiley’s First Shot At Obama Portrait
Kehinde Wiley–a Nigerian-American portrait painter known for his highly naturalistic paintings of black people–sat down with Swizz Beatz on Monday night for a conversation at Art Basel in Miami, Florida.
Just last month, Wiley unveiled his historic “Rumors of War” in Times Square: a massive bronze statue of a young African American man in urban streetwear on top of a galloping horse.
He explains that the 29-foot-high work is his way of changing the dialogue around Confederate statues. As a call for inclusivity, his statue mimics that of a Confederate general in Richmond, Virginia, and will be moved there at the end of the year.
Wiley–who famously painted President Barack Obama for the National Portrait Gallery–takes people who have historically come from a perceived place of non-existence and puts them in the forefront of his works, but making those peices relevant and available to the masses remains a point of struggle.
Said power struggle was flipped once again when the artist interviewed as a candidate to paint Obama’s portrait. The artist who is known for giving a voice to the voiceless was now on his way to be commissioned to depict the most powerful man in the world.
He candidly spoke about what that process was like leading up to the final reveal of the work of art.
“I’m in the Oval Office, my hands are shaking,” he said, recalling how he and Obama went through various poses and paged through art history books discussing the importance of letting the president’s personality shine through.
When Swizz Beatz asked whether Barack or Michelle was the boss in the room, Wiley revealed, “I got a call and [Barack] said, ‘the first version that you made, I love it, but Michelle doesn’t’, he laughed. “I swear I wasn’t going to talk about this.”
Her reasoning? It turns out the former first lady thought the piece was missing some of the artist’s signature style, Wiley said. Not such a bad review after all–but it sure is a funny story to have in your back pocket.
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Today, @KehindeWiley and @ASherald became the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian. To call this experience humbling would be an understatement. Thanks to Kehinde and Amy, generations of Americans — and young people from all around the world — will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. They’ll walk out of that museum with a better sense of the America we all love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Inclusive and optimistic. And I hope they’ll walk out more empowered to go and change their worlds.