Kehinde Wiley has firmly situated himself within art history’s tradition of portraiture. As a contemporary descendant of a long line of portraitists, including Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian, and Ingres, among others, Wiley engages the signs and visual rhetoric of the heroic, the powerful, the majestic and the sublime in his representation of urban, black and brown people he meets throughout the world.
Wiley’s larger-than-life figures disturb and interrupt tropes of portraiture, often blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation. Rather than shying away from the complicated socio-political histories relevant to the world, Wiley critically addresses portrayals of gender and physicality as they pertain to views of black and brown bodies according to both historic and contemporary paradigms.
Working in the mediums of painting, sculpture, and video, Wiley creates portraits that challenge and reorient art-historical narratives, awakening complex issues that many would prefer remain muted.
Wiley holds a BFA from San Francisco Art Institute; an MFA from Yale University; and honorary PhDs from Rhode Island School of Design and San Francisco Art Institute. Wiley has held solo exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally and his works are included in the collections of over 40 public institutions around the world. Wiley is the subject of the documentary An Economy of Grace (2014, Show of Force) and his work is the subject of eleven monographs to date.
Wiley was honored in 2015 by the U.S. Department of State with the Medal of Arts award, celebrating his commitment to cultural diplomacy through the visual arts. In 2018 Wiley became the first African American artist to paint an official US Presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Former US President Barack Obama selected Wiley for this honor. Wiley received the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal in October 2018 from Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research and The Gordon Parks Foundation Award in June 2019. In 2019 the French government selected Wiley to receive the distinction of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, which will be conferred in early 2020.
Wiley is the Founder and President of Black Rock Senegal, a non-profit artist-in-residence program located in Dakar, Senegal. Wiley lives and works in New York, Dakar, and Beijing.
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