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African Art: Kehinde Wiley

African Art: Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley is a portrait painter based in New York, who is recognized for his extremely representational, large-scale paintings of individuals with brown skin in valiant postures. He frequently adopts the images of Renaissance masters, such as Vecellio, Inges, Titian, and Tiepolo, for the pose of his figures.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Wiley’s curiosity in art was encouraged and supported by his mother from a very young age. He would later receive his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the San Francisco Institute of Art and his Masters of Fine Art from Yale University.

Wiley’s intensely colored and ornately presented portraits regularly cloud the limitations of the expected and modern-day styles of illustration. Although making allusions to exact Old Master paintings, he produces a combination of styles, such as West African fabric design, ornate French Rococo, inner-city hip hop, and Islamic design. Wiley's greater than life-size subjects are portrayed in a superhuman means, by choosing postures and attitudes which imply authority and unmatched influence, like was often done in seventeenth through nineteenth century art.

Wiley declares his method is "interrogating the notion of the master painter, at once critical and complicit." His dramatic works "quote historical sources and position young black men within that field of power.” By doing so, Wiley’s paintings combine antiquity and flair in a distinctive and fashionable manner.

In 2005, VH1 employed Wiley to create paintings of the honorees for their Hip Hop Honors program. Wiley used his characteristic allusions to older portraits to enhance the validity of our generation’s dominant musicians.

Wiley’s work can be found in countless community collections all over the globe, such as the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia and the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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