Kehinde Wiley (born in Los Angeles, California in 1977) is a New York based painter who is known for his paintings of contemporary urban African American men in poses taken from the annals of art history. His painting style has been compared to that of such traditional portraitists as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian and Ingres. The Columbus Museum of Art, which hosted an exhibition of his work in 2007, describes his work with the following: "Kehinde Wiley has gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture.
Wiley’s paintings often blur the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation. Rendered in a realistic mode –– while making references to specific old master paintings –– Wiley creates a fusion of period styles, ranging from French rococo, Islamic architecture and West African textile design to urban hip–hop and the "Sea Foam Green" of a Martha Stewart Interiors color swatch. Wiley’s slightly larger than life size figures are depicted in a heroic manner, as their poses connote power and spiritual awakening. Wiley’s portrayal of masculinity is filtered through these poses of power and spirituality.
His portraits are based on photographs of young men who Wiley sees on the street, begun last year with men mostly from Harlem’s 125th Street, the series now includes models from the South Central neighborhood where he was born. Dressed in street clothes, they are asked to assume poses from the paintings of Renaissance masters, such as Titian and Tiepolo. Wiley also embraces French rococo ornamentation; his references to this style compliment his embrace of hip–hop culture. Similarly, the poses of his figures appear to derive as much from contemporary hip–hop culture as from Renaissance paintings.
The artist describes his approach as "interrogating the notion of the master painter, at once critical and complicit." Wiley’s figurative paintings "quote historical sources and position young black men within that field of power.” In this manner, Wiley’s paintings fuse history and style in a unique and contemporary manner.
Kehinde Wiley’s works reference paintings by Titian and Tiepolo, but he also draws from other styles ranging from the French Rococo to contemporary urban street. Kehinde Wiley’s exhibition Infinite Mobility recently appeared at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Two of Wiley's pieces are highlighted as part of the Collected Identities exhibition currently on display at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
His work currently resides in National Portrait Gallery (United States) as part of the Recognize exhibit.