At the Art Museum: Kehinde Wiley

This morning, Tim and I made a point of heading downtown to see the exhibit of artwork at the Seattle Art Museum by Kehinde Wiley, before it closes tomorrow.

I’m glad we went, but I’m also glad we didn’t go earlier.

I’m glad we didn’t go until after we had been to Versailles, the Louvre, and the Rjksmuseum when we were in Europe a month ago. At all those museums, we saw monumental paintings, measuring eight feet or more on a side.

For instance, “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” at Versailles measures 8′ 11″ by 7′ 7″ . And “The Raft of the Medusa” at the Louvre measures 16′ 1″ × 23′ 6″.

Having seen those and many other such paintings, I have a greater appreciation for the artistic tradition that Mr. Wiley draws upon.


I’m pretty sure this painting was in the exhibit. And even if it wasn’t, it still represents some of the aspects of Mr. Wiley’s style that appeal to me.

First of all, I can’t help but be in awe of his technical skill. The level of detail and realism in his work is amazing. Look closely at the sheer material in the skirts and sleeves of the women’s dresses, and how he has rendered the background as though seen through it.

I was also taken by the backgrounds he incorporates into his portraits. Whether relatively simple repeats or as elaborate as in the painting above, they are an unusual counterpoint. The extreme stylized quality contrasts with the nearly photorealistic quality of the individual(s) depicted. Also, in his portraits of men, the floral patterns impart an elegance that is at odds with, and challenges, common cultural stereotypes.

Kehinde Wiley  Dee-and-Ricky-by-Kehinde-Wiley

And I love the way he brings them into the foreground, wrapping the motifs around the figures.



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