Traditional art, the kind we see in museums, is beautiful as it is important. But it also tends to be a bit… repetitive. Most paintings depict Mythological creatures, kings and queens, military leaders and conquerors. It’s all very inspiring, but not exactly relatable – and that’s exactly what Kehinde Wiley decided to change.
Wiley is is a Nigerian-American portrait painter based in New York City. Having studied first in the San Francisco Art Institute and later at Yale University’s School of Art, he was trained in different mediums. But the one thing that bothered him was that the great masters that inspired him belonged to a different world, where art was reserved for the rich and powerful.
So he set out to correct that. He started using his skills to create his own classical masterpiece, but instead of painting the kings and queens of 19th century Europe, he chose people from his own life and community as subjects. He used traditional painting techniques to make his friends and family look like royalty.
His breakthrough came in 2017, when he was commissioned to paint Barak Obama’s official White House portrait. Today, that portrait hangs in the White House, together with paintings of Washington and Roosevelt. Wiley has since toured the world to paint people from different cultures and backgrounds with the same magnificence of royal portraits.