By applying the visual vocabulary and conventions of glorification, wealth, prestige, and history to subject matter drawn from the urban fabric, American artist Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977) forces ambiguity and provocative perplexity to pervade his imagery. Wiley’s figures interrupt tropes of portrait painting, often blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation and the critical portrayal of masculinity and physicality as it pertains to the view of black and brown young men.
Initially, Wiley’s portraits were based on photographs taken of young men found on the streets of Harlem. As his practice grew, he included models found in urban landscapes throughout the world, accumulating to a vast body of work called The World Stage. The models, dressed in their everyday clothing—most of which is based on the notion of far-reaching Western ideals of style—are asked to assume poses found in paintings or sculptures representative of the history of their surroundings.
His heroic paintings evoke a modern style instilling a unique and contemporary manner, giving artistic voice to complex issues that many would prefer remain mute.
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