Wiley, Kehinde

Kehinde Wiley – Biography

Kehinde Wiley “The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte (The World Stage: Haiti)” 2014Kehinde Wiley (American, b.1977) is a painter best known for his naturalistic portraits of African American men in heroic poses. Born in Los Angeles, CA, he earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and his MFA from the Yale University School of Art. Wiley’s early work consists of Photo-Realistic paintings of men, whom he had met on the streets in Harlem, set against a floral background. In all of his work, Wiley combines a wide range of references from classical painting and pop culture. He developed an early interest in portraiture and frescos, particularly the work of Venetian painters such as Titian and Giambattista Tiepolo, and draws inspiration from French Rococo painting, Islamic architecture, African textile design, contemporary fashion, and urban hip hop. His painting Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005), for example, imitates the well-known portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte by Jacques-Louis David. Wiley substitutes the figure of Napoleon with an anonymous African American model and sets him against a Rococo style background. Over the course of his career, the size of Wiley’s canvases have expanded, and he began depicting his subjects, young black models or music icons, in heroic defeat as well as triumph. In 2007, Wiley began his ongoing series titled The World Stage with portraits of black men that imitated Maoist propaganda posters. He has continued to travel through Africa, Brazil, India, and Sri Lanka, and paint portraits that incorporate the cultural imagery associated with these places. Wiley’s work has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. He lives and works in Beijing, Dakar, and New York.