I must admit, when I first saw the paintings of Kehinde Wiley I was not impressed what so ever. My first impressions were that these paintings were tacky, kitsch and camp. The VIBRANT, the COLOURFUL, ROCOCO patterns juxtaposed by photo-realistic portraits just did not do it for me.
However, as they say, NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER. After visiting Stephen Friedman Gallery for the exhibition The World Stage: Jamaica I realized the reasoning behind the way Wiley paints, and instantly fell in LOVE. Wiley is a RENAISSANCE MAN, following the long history of PORTRAITURE paintings but revamping them in an URBAN way. He attempts to bring subjects that would not usually be portrayed in this style of painting and gives these people a A STATUS OF PROMINENCE AND A VOICE.
What Wiley does is go into the streets of poor neighborhoods, be it HARLEM, the slums of RIO or in this case JAMAICA and photographs the everyday man in prominent historical poses of people of noble status. He then goes and paints these photographs onto a canvas with the backdrop of older patterns depicted within history but in different tones – brilliant reds, greens and yellows.
It is a way for him to respond to SOCIO-POLITICAL issues surrounding black males-colonialism, imperialism, racism etc. By evoking these traditional painting modes onto black males and females, he is thus not only bringing status to these everyday men and women, but as well showing the inequality of the subject of the cultural “Other” that is still prominent today.
It is not camp and kitsch at all.
It is BEAUTIFUL and THOUGHT PROVOKING.
Peace Out, K.