I don’t know about everyone else, but I was jumping off the walls when I woke up and heard the presidential portraits were reveled this past week. After viewing them, I am still marveling at the artist’s representation of the former President and First Lady. They are each striking examples of contemporary portraiture that breaks the rules and take an innovative stance on what portraits can say.
Artists Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley approached their fantastic tasks of painting these portraits with not only a flavor different from previous Presidential portraits, but very different from each other’s also.
Kehinde Wiley is a LA born painter currently based in New York who has been challenging portraiture’s historical context through his work. Generally his work is firmly related to the historical portrait painting techniques but with subject matter that challenges the notorious lack of diversity within it. In conjunction, Wiley is the first African-American to paint one of the Presidential portraits to be shown in the National Portrait Gallery. In the portrait itself, the artist utilizes a sharp contrast in subjects, with Obama seated against a wall of florals that wrap around and mingle with the figure. It shows a unique and unexpected approach but pays off because of its execution being so thoughtful and impressive.
In contrast, former First Lady, Michelle Obama’s portrait, painted by Amy Sherald, turns heads for different reasons. The simplicity in comparison to her husband’s portrait is significant, however the artist captures a demure sophistication that many of us have recognized in the former First Lady. The geometric patterns overlayed on the blank white spaces of the gown add interest but also act as a compositional element that lead the viewer’s eye to Obama’s gaze.
Overall, I was extremely satisfied with the portraits execution and character. Each one elevates and makes the Obama’s each look significant and intellectual while maintaining a level of wit and charm. The selections of the artists not only resulted in these two outstanding portraits but also created more visibility and role models for young people of color, which Michelle Obama mentioned at the unveiling saying that while at the ceremony she was, “thinking about all of the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall.”
Photos By: Saul Loeb via Getty Images, and Mark Wilson via Getty Images