September 29, 2010 § 1 Comment
i first became interested in kehinde wiley’s art about one year ago, after reading an interview in which he described his art as contesting/reflecting notions of power by intersecting baroquesque portraiture with black identity. i couldn’t find that same article, but here are some other excerpts.
Art Interview: How do you approach the class system and conflicts of class system? You’re painting generally urban men, and you began with lower class people from the streets. That has since changed. Is class an issue in your work?
Kehinde Wiley: It’s interesting you ask, because when you describe the models in my paintings as urban men, you’re correct; New York City is one of the most dynamic urban areas globally, however New York City is also the home of more millionaires per capita than any other site. The question concerning the economic reality that models are facing is one that I never really know. I don’t know if they’re poor young black people or rich young curious art connoisseurs. It’s merely a matter of esthetic choice that drives me to choose one person over the next. There is a very real economic disparity between the races in America that can’t be ignored as a subtext, a very non-subtle subtext in my work and the history of painting and certainly the history of portraiture; it’s been the story of very powerful wealthy white men deciding to portray themselves in certain ways that quite frankly is a type of propaganda, a positioning oneself in the world to engender a point of view. I’m trying to take that language and criticize it, hammering it down to some sort of corrective object. My goal is to resurrect it in the form of something that seems a bit more delightful and playful, and something not didactic or preachy, but rather quite engaging, a language that I fell in love with as a young kid who really loved painting. I want to find some way in which I can recognize truth and myself in it and the things that resonate within me and resonate within the culture. I’m attempting to engage a question, not necessarily around the history of portraiture or religious iconography and propaganda surrounding wealthy white men, or the class disparities between the richand the poor in America, or the race disparity, but rather a type of celebration, not necessarily of the darker sides of these chaotic and sometimes discouraging actualities, but the magic that can occur when all of these different possibilities interact in some way. The work doesn’t always find a redemptive landing point, but many times it does. The work differs substantially from a lot of political work we see from artists of color coming out of the late 50’s and 60’s. I stand on the shoulders of many very brave and talented African American and Latino artists who were all artists of good will regardless of gender or race, who decided to ask more pointed political questions. It’s more radical and exciting for me to use the absence of a political starting point as the starting point, and this is a type of political narrative. The questions concerning class, gender, race, sexuality, are terribly interesting and potent, but at the same time, they tend to slow down the process of reading the paintings. When you arrive at any great painting, the hope is that you are engaged and fixated upon what the painting is doing rather than what the world is doing outside of the picture, but the painting also serves as a catalyst for further reflection. Those are two interdependent states of viewing.
in an interview by M.I.A.:
from his 2008 series Down:
i would love to see his work in person.