Kehinde Wiley, an artist originally from Los Angeles and now based in New York, paints striking, larger than life portraits that often incorporate intricate patterns.
These can be naturalistic, as in repeated patterns of realistically rendered leaves or flowers, or decorative, sometimes borrowing from the baroque or Art Nouveau, but often reflecting the cultural heritage of countries visited in the course of his “World Stage” project.
The galleries on his website are divided into series, the World Stage series is further divided into regions he visited in his pursuit of the project.
The works are large scale, sometimes 8×25′ (2.5×7.5m), though that aspect is unfortunately lost (along with any hint of paint handling or surface quality) in the small scale images provided on the site (you can get an idea of scale from this photo of an installation).
Wiley has pursued classical painting technique and is willing to take on daunting challenges of foreshortening, as well as taking chances with backgrounds and patterns that might threaten to overwhelm his subjects, were they not painted with enormous strength and visual punch.
He frequently uses backlighting to emphasize the dimensionality of his figures and faces, and has enough control of his backgrounds that, despite their intensity of color, they can actually serve to push the subjects forward rather than distract from their presence.
Some of his backgrounds are rendered in the kind intense paired complimentary colors found in op art or 1960’s psychedelic poster art.
Wiley sometimes allows his background patterns to come forward, passing in front of his subjects or interacting with them like physical structures. At other times they are more lightly suggested and drift in and out of naturalistically depicted scenery.
In spite of the terrible navigation on his website (links that disappear and move when you mouse over or click – WTF?), it’s worth reading his artist’s statement and FAQ (in the Research section). There is also a series of interview videos in the Media section.
Wiley’s painting Three Wise Men Greeting Entry into Lagos (above, top) was recently acquired for the permanent collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts here in Philadelphia, though I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.
Some of the galleries listed below have larger images of the work than the artist’s own site.