From a young age, I have always taken inspiration from artists that I admired. I would spend hours on end scouring through their works, mimicking them, committing their intricacies and details to memory, learning from how they presented such deep and complex emotions. This week, I decided that I would talk about one artist I discovered in high school, someone who’s art has spoken to me and has inspired me in my own work as well.
Kehinde Wiley is a Los Angeles native and New York-based visual artist who is known for his incredible portrait paintings. Wiley’s imagery creates a sense of ambiguity and provocative perplexity. By juxtaposing his subjects with the style of the piece, applying the visual vocabulary of glorification, history, wealth, and prestige to the portrayed figure, Wiley creates images that become larger than life. His work has a way of pervading into a realm that is both hyper-realistic while also creating an air of vague mystique.
Initially, Wiley’s portraits were created based on photographs taken of young men from the streets of Harlem. As time went on, he grew to exhibit more of an international view, including models found in landscapes throughout the world. He was even the artist to create the presidential portrait for Barack Obama. The models that he captures are dressed in their everyday clothing, assuming poses found in paintings or sculptures representative of the history of their surroundings. This juxtaposition of the “old” with the “new” is so visually potent and is what captured me when I first saw his work. His paintings evoke conversation and awaken complex issues that many would rather not be discussed.Wiley’s exploration of the human form against incredibly beautiful backgrounds is what I took inspiration from and channeled in some of my artwork as well.
One of my pieces piece, titled The Modern Brahma, done in mixed media ranging from watercolor, gold leafing, and acrylic has a background inspired by Wiley’s. In the piece, I create a rendition of Brahma, the four-headed God of Creation in Hinduism. The subject displays various heads, each holding a different expression. It is clear as well that the subject of the painting is not Indian, but rather Caucasian. This choice was to show the internal struggle that I have always had between staying true to my roots and culture versus wanting to fit within the American society that I have grown up in. That feeling of being an outcast and alienated is demonstrated through the countenance of the foremost face, while pride for my culture is shown in the smile on the other. The faces also all adorn a bindi on their foreheads, juxtaposing my traditional background and culture with my modern American society and upbringing.
As I’m sure many other artists do, I love taking inspiration from the works of other artists. I hope that I brought to light an incredible artist who is a leader in his craft and someone that I truly admire. As always, if anything that I discussed in this post stands out or if any questions arise please feel free to comment and share your thoughts! Looking forward to next Sunday.
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