Artist of the Month: Kehinde Wiley

Welcome back to my long-neglected ‘Artist of the Month’ series. I know I have really fallen off with art content on the blog. Like really fallen off. But as I currently write my final university dissertation, I’ve been so inspired to come back with lots of art-related posts (if you didn’t already know, I study History of Art at university). So here we are, reigniting this series after an unnecessarily overdrawn hiatus. If you would like to go back to see the previous ‘Artist of the Month’ posts, click (here). I would love to know if you’re into these types of artist/art related posts, so please leave a comment below on your thoughts!


Kehinde Wiley has been described as “the painter of portraits that borrow heavily from the old to make something blazingly new”, which is a tidily concise summation of his oeuvre. He has the remarkable ability to subvert artistic tradition whilst simultaneously creating something which is stylistically innovative. His majestic black portraiture often applies different visual languages in the vocabulary of glorification, history, wealth and prestige. It is not too surprising that Wiley’s work is based on exalting the black form, him being the LA-born son of a Yoruba father and African American mother.


You may wonder which of Wiley’s works are my favourite? Naturally, I am completely enthralled by his controversial paintings of black women holding the decapitated heads of white women (see Judith and Holofernes below). It seems as though Wiley knows exactly what is going to stir up heated debate, and I clamourously applaud him for questioning the set boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of portrait painting. Yet, sadly, discussions surrounding his cutting social critiques often lack nuanced conversations about the black experience and are instead turned to accusations of Wiley himself being racist. *rolls eyes*.


Wiley’s first portraits were based on photographs taken of young men found on the streets of Harlem, and his journey of black portraiture reached its pinnacle in February when Wiley was chosen by Barack Obama to paint his official presidential portrait. From his earlier work that played on the canon of traditional art, to his hyper-realistic and naturalistic portraits of black youths, see some of my personal favourite Wiley paintings below:


Kehinde Wiley, Place Soweto (National Assembly), 2008


Kehinde Wiley, Mrs Waldorf Astor, 2012


Kehinde Wiley, Ibrahmina Sacho II, 2007


Kehinde Wiley, Tosin Otegbole, 2008


Kehinde Wiley, Three Wise Men Greeting Entry into Lagos, 2008


Kehinde Wiley, Portrait of Dyouany Beretie Verly, 2014


Kehinde Wiley, On Top of The World, 2008 


Kehinde Wiley, Judith and Holofernes, 2012


Kehinde Wiley, Tomb of Pope Alexander VII Study I, 2008


Kehinde Wiley, Barack Obama, 2018

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