The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery Unveils Portrait of President Barack Obama
14 February, 2018, 19:02
At Tuesday's unveiling, which took place at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Wiley expressed his delight at being the first African-American artist to earn a presidential portrait commission and to have the chance to paint the first African-American president.
The paintings were revealed Monday at the gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian group of museums.
Wiley has included flowers in the background (another nod to historical portraiture) to reference elements of the president's personal history, including jasmine for Hawaii, African blue lilies for his father's Kenyan heritage, and chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago. She praised Sherald, who "was fly and poised and hip and cool", and who won her over with focused resolve.
Although Wiley's aesthetic style is hyperrealistic, he, like Sherald, doesn't depict his subjects as they are in real life.
President Obama's portrait is a break from tradition. Her works stand in direct opposition to prejudice and discrimination while questioning contemporary definitions of identity. "I think it's a representation of all black women".
The portrait gown wasn't the first time Smith had dressed Obama; Meredith Koop, the former first lady's stylist, had often reached out to Milly over the years.
Wiley, an established artist whose work is held by prominent museums worldwide, has produced a characteristically flat, nearly polished surface, with intensely rich colors and a busy, sumptuous background that recalls his interest in portraiture. As Media Matters and Upworthy's Parker Molloy first noted yesterday, the far-right has latched on to a pair of Wiley's paintings in which he depicts the biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes-a frequent subject in Renaissance art-as a black woman holding the head of a white man or a white woman.
Michelle also noted in her speech what it means for little black girls to see her portrait hanging in the gallery.
"She's known for a lot of things and one of them is fashion, so I knew that was important", Sherald says.
Obama called his grand seven-foot portrait "pretty sharp".
The former president was painted in a suit - without a tie - against a background of leaves and flowers on the edge of a wooden chair, and the former FLOTUS looked lovely in a flowy dress with geometric patterns and a halter neckline.
Sherald added, "Mrs. Obama, you exist in our minds and hearts in the way that you do because we can see ourselves in you".
He also takes paintings of saints and heroes of Old Masters and replaces the subjects with black men and women.
She completed the look with wide leg black pants , a cross body bag and stilettos, keeping her hair and makeup simple and natural. She grabs his shoulders comfortingly as he tries to pretend that the moment didn't happen, but she also can't stop laughing.
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