New Yorker Gushes Over Portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama

14 February, 2018, 18:59 | Author: Brenda Erickson
  • Getty Image

The official portraits, unveiled by former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama Monday at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., were skillfully painted by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.

For the most part, though, people were just really excited.

To combat critical perceptions of Michelle's portrait, CNN White House reporter Kate Bennettoffered some details on Sherald's artistic style, which is reportedly why she was chosen to paint the former first lady.

In anticipation of the portrait, Smith sent a few iterations of the dress to Obama.

"He asked me about my relationship to power, and how it is that I would make a portrait that differs from that power dynamic that exists in my work heretofore", Wiley remembers.

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.

Moments after Sherald's painting was revealed, Twitter was teeming with reactions from newly anointed art critics, who praised and condemned the work at lightning speed.

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There has been some criticism, especially on social media, that the portraits are odd, and that Sherald's painting doesn't particularly look like Michelle Obama. The use of gray is a political statement of sorts for Sherald, in which she discards the assigned "color" of African-American subjects. Most recently, Obama wore a Milly blouse on her final day in the White House.

"I look pretty sharp", Barack said after seeing himself in art form. She focuses on African-Americans and renders them with great psychological intimacy.

"And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives", she continued, "because I was one of those girls". In one hand, she holds a knife.

"I was blown away by the boldness of Amy's colors", she said. It's a nod to the women of Gee's Bend, an isolated Black community in late nineteenth century Alabama, where the women created abstract and asymmetrical quilt designs that defied the traditional geometric palette of American quilts.

Politico also suggested a hidden political message in Obama's choice of Smith as the gown's designer. In this way, Sherald wondrously troubles assumptions about blackness and representation in portraiture.

Wiley, who is a Los Angeles native, previously had a series of works featuring hip-hop artists displayed in the National Gallery. Every four to eight years, a couple of new presidential portraits appear at the National Portrait Gallery, memorializing the likes of George W. and Laura Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and so forth.

But ultimately, it presents something new. Sherald is a charismatic figure, and I expect that are many people who will be happy to discover her work. Far from it. Of the scores of paintings the artist has produced, only the two based on the biblical beheading story depict such a scene.

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