Kehinde Wiley: A Richer Republic

Click here to view Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic in the SPL catalogThere they are, in dramatic pose, embellished by a florid, heavily patterned background.  Commanding your view, a delicious mix of vibrant color, dramatic flair, dare and mystery.  Just who are these people, anyway? What did they do to warrant a place on the world stage?  Not only that, they have assumed the pose of a historic figure, have stepped, you might say, mightily into the very shoes of history.

They are the chosen ones.  Strangers who were stopped on a Harlem street and invited to be photographed.  He shows them his previous work.  He pulls out books with examples of paintings anywhere from the 16th to the 19th century that are inspiration for this work. See that pose? That one, this one.  Which pose resonates with you? Now, arrange your body to mirror it.

Known and unknown, past and present, African-American and European become entwined by line, shape and color referencing one another, talking back and forth in paint, palette and position.  Here for all to see, dramatically portrayed individuals, who by color of skin, heredity, quality and fold of cloth, announce their position in society.  But, oh, here the term Old Masters takes on new light and meaning.

Each painting can be viewed as a frame in a film or an actor in a still of a stage play. For this role you must come costumed in more than cloth.  Don’t they know?  Yes, they do.  You have to have attitude, must reference ways of thinking and behaving within economies of style. Rich to the eye, lushly rendered and statuesque, they are big in more than size.  Sculpted or painted the forms reconfigure the way one sees men and women who are, largely, the background motif of society.  Wiley brings them front and center.  Their presence cannot be denied and, yet, there is more. More construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of what is seen and understood only to alter, even by the title of a piece, the experience of the viewer. The cloth of history has been resewn into seamless, startling, visions that draw on multiplicities of cultural expression.

Do you want to see more than what meets the eye?  Then go, delve beneath layers of paint and investigate Kehinde Wiley’s inspirations, his influences and forerunners. To do so, is to travel the world to traverse Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.  Yes, journey from a street corner in Harlem into the Ming Dynasty to take in rococo, El Greco, Romare Bearden, poster art, hang around Titian, Velázquez, Maoist China, look up Thomas Gainsborough, follow Aaron Douglas, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, halt at haute couture, turn towards portrait painting and figurative painting, root through botanical art, then examine Islamic art and architecture. Kehinde Wiley transforms and repositions centuries old bodies into a contemporary presence that invites a viewer to see through history. Go, see for yourself! Take in the splendid view. He has created a richer republic.

Kehinde Wiley:  A New Republic will be on exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum February 11-May 8, 2016.

~ posted by Chris, ArtTalk

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