Kehinde Wiley is an American portrait painter based in New York City, who is known for his highly naturalistic paintings of African Americans, frequently referencing the work of Old Master paintings. He was commissioned in 2017 to paint a portrait of former President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, which has portraits of all previous American presidents. The Columbus Museum of Art, which hosted an exhibition of his work in 2007, describes his work as follows: "Wiley has gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture."
Wiley was included in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2018.
Early life and education
Wiley was born in Los Angeles, California. His father, Isaiah D. Obot, is Yoruba, from Nigeria, and his mother, Freddie Mae Wiley, is African American. Wiley has a twin brother. When Wiley was a child, his mother wanted him and his brother to stay out of the streets and so she supported their interest in art and enrolled them in after-school art classes. At the age of 11, Wiley and his brother were selected with 48 other kids to spend a short time at a conservatory of art in Russia, just outside St. Petersburg. It was here that Wiley developed his passion for portraiture. Wiley noted that his brother was better at portraiture than he was and this created a competitive sense between them. The siblings would compete to see who could recreate the most realistic images. He continued with other classes in the US.
The twins were raised by their mother; once their father, who had come to the US as a scholarship student, finished his studies, he returned to Nigeria, leaving Freddie to raise the couple's six children. Wiley has said that his family survived on welfare checks and the limited income earned by his mother's 'thrift store' – which consisted of a patch of sidewalk outside their home. Wiley traveled to Nigeria at the age of 20 to meet his father and explore his family roots there. Wiley earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art in 2001; before becoming an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, who Wiley has later stated "made the artist is today."Jeffrey Deitch, an art dealer and curator, gave Wiley his first solo show – Passing/Posing – at the Hoffman Gallery in Chicago in 2005. Deitch later represented him for the next 10 years.
Wiley has cited the artist Kerry James Marshall as being a big influence on him.