So, first, HOLY F*CKING COW. That was what I said under my breath when we walked in, and were faced with a 10 foot tall portrait of Michael Jackson as Napoleon on this horse. This man works big. Really big. Larger than life. Some of his stuff is billboard sized.
Then, there's his subject matter: most of the exhibit was paintings of young black men, from the US, Haiti, Jamaica. Young men, dressed in urban style clothing. You just don't see that portrayed in art that hangs in museums, so it was kind of breathtaking. That they were posed as if in classical paintings was brilliant, and heartbreaking. We don't have many portraits of people of color from previous centuries. Wiley's work gives us a glimpse of what might have been.
And then, there's the use of pattern and color. Wiley makes a huge nod to William Morris with the complexity of his background work. In fact, in the museum gift shop, books of Morris patterns were displayed with the Wiley exhibit catalog. But the coloring is bright and fresh, like Morris took a trip to the bath towel aisle at Target.
And last, but certainly not least, was Wiley's skill as a painter. His skin tones, facial expressions, use of light. This is perfect portrait painting, beautifully rendered in hyper-realistic color and detail.
The exhibit was huge and overwhelming and breathtaking. I feel so inspired by the work I saw. It was old and familiar, and new and different, all whirled together.
Amazing. Awesome. I have no words to convey how this exhibit rocked my world.
So, here are some links, if you'd like to learn more about Kehinde Wiley and his work:
Kehinde Wiley Studio is the artist's web site. Tons of photos of his various types of work, including stained glass, and pieces from each of his series.
Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace is a PBS film about a show he put together in New York. It shows a lot of his process, from choosing his models, through the hanging of the finished pieces in the gallery. I found this really interesting because several of the paintings he works on in the film were in the exhibit I saw.
Everything We Know About the Art in "Empire" is an article on Creators Project about the art in the TV show. Wiley's art is all over this show, because his style and subject matter fits the story lines so well.
On that note: I'm laying down the first collage bit, and gessoing today. Scary stuff.