Kehinde Wiley is a New York based artist who I first profiled in 2012. Wiley paints large scale portraits and figures in which he incorporates complex, detailed and often high-chroma patterns and decorative elements.
In the rich earth reds and browns in which he paints the dark skin tones of his subjects, Wiley uses a full range of value, from brightest highlights to deepest darks. Combined with a forceful modeling of the forms, often incorporating backlighting, his faces and figures have a visual strength that allows Wiley to essentially go wild with his backgrounds without concern that the subjects will be overwhelmed.
In contrast, the clothing in which his subjects are dressed, though often brightly colored, is frequently handled with a softer range of values, deliberately sending it into the background. This effect is exaggerated by the extension of background pattern elements into the foreground, wrapping around or in front of the figures like physical objects.
His subjects are often posed in classical poses similar to the classic paintings that Wiley admires, though they are often named as saints and other religious figures. Some are arranged as actual icons, but emphasize the real name of the sitter.
As visually striking as Wiley’s paintings are in small reproductions, they are much more so in person, as they are large in scale. Like many of the old masters, as well as more recent painters, Wiley uses assistants to complete his large scale works, some working from a secondary studio he has established in Beijing, China.
Wiley’s work is currently on display in a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum: “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic“, that runs until May 24, 2015.