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Kehinde Wiley To Paint Barack Obama’s Official Presidential Portrait

Barack and Michelle Obama have selected the artists who will paint their portraits for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

Barack chose New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley for his official presidential portrait, while Michelle chose Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald to paint hers.

Wiley is best known for his portraits of young black men wearing the latest in street fashion, stylized in the vein of the Old Masters and set against colorful, patterned backdrops. His past subjects have included the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Ice T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Michael Jackson, among others.

Renowned New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley has hinted at eagerness to paint Obama in the past. Photo credit: Chad Batka/The New York Times/Redux, Steffi Loos/Getty Images


In a 2008 interview with Time Out New York, Wiley mentioned his interest in painting Obama:

“I’d love, love, love to do his official presidential portrait. I’m actively campaigning.”

In 2012, he reiterated his interest to the BBC:

“I think it would be really interesting to paint Obama. I’ve done several studies in the past, I’ve sort of worked out different strategies about how that would be, but it’s a very curious possibility. We’ll see where that goes.”

Sherald’s selection was not a very surprising one. Her signature body of work depicts her subjects, mostly black men and women, in grey scale contrasted with colorful backgrounds. She won a National Portrait Gallery portrait prize last year and has a portrait in the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture titled “Grand Dame Queenie”.

Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a statement on the site:

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former President and First Lady. Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

Although the White House commissioned a black Alabaman artist, Simmie Knox, to pain the Clintons in 2000, this is the first time that black artists were hired by the Smithsonian to create a portrait of a former president since they started commissioning portraits in 1994.

The Obamas’ portraits will be revealed in early 2018.

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