Monday, 1 September 2008

Kehinde Wiley::My New Favourite Painter

Apparently I have been out of the loop, only having recently discovered the genius that is Kehinde Wiley. Although now that I think about it, I had come across one of his uniquely-styled majestic paintings of a hoodie (UK slang for teenaged male in a hooded top) on a horse on some random page on facebook (should I be saying this?). Anyway, to the point - I recently saw Wiley’s exhibition The World Stage: Africa, Lagos ~ Dakar at the Studio Museum in Harlem (hat tip Kamau - you’ve become a regular resource to this blog!).

Wiley’s distinct portraiture of young, urban black men in an ornate setting has been branded by reviewers as European renaissance meets hip-hop. In a similar yet distinct thread, this exhibition presents gigantic oil on canvas paintings of local, young, male models, dressed in contemporary wear, in poses that mimic historical public sculptures from the streets of Lagos and Dakar in a backdrop of ornate, bright and colourful West African textiles. Believe me, the image here is nowhere close to doing the real thing justice.

I particularly liked Wiley’s reported interaction with the local young men and granting them some artistic license to express themselves when they modelled the theatrical poses for him. I was greatly impressed by the vibrancy, life-like expressions, and contradictory grandeur yet intimacy that these paintings portrayed, especially given their impressive larger-than-life size. I stood in one spot in the centre of the appropriately high-ceilinged exhibition room, and gently rotated, surrounded by at least ten paintings, wanting to be enveloped by and absorb all of their splendour. It was readily evident that Wiley had put a lot of thought into his choice of West African textiles used in the backdrop, not only in terms of their intricate designs but also their kaleidoscopic splash of colours which blend amazingly and surprisingly well with the colourful attire and mood of the subjects. In addition, in some cases the elaborate designs of the textiles transcend the boundary of being just the background, but swirl across, subtlely merging and interacting with the subject. From my Wiley-related investigations online, this appears to be a trademark Wiley-esque trait. The World Stage: Africa, Lagos ~ Dakar is on at the Studio Museum in Harlem until 26th October 2008. If you can, go see. I guarantee, you will not be disappointed. Or your money back :)

I hope my suspicions that Kehinde Wiley is only just warming up are confirmed, this reportedly being his second body of work inspired out of the US borders. The other being World Stage: China.

When I really like something, I have a tendency to want to immerse myself in it and absorb everything there is to know about it. If like me, you still want more on this ├╝ber cool (are the kids still saying this?) wealth of talent, check out his website and profile on myspace.

Also, more of Kehinde Wiley’s work to tantalise your senses (yipee!) at the RECOGNIZE! exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, that is said to explore hip-hop culture’s vitality and beauty by Wiley and other artists. Also on until 26th October 2008. Sadly, I am relying on the internet to get my Wiley fix from the latter. If I had a mansion with huge walls, I know what would be adorning them. Sigh.

Images from Kofi, artnet and i heart art.

No comments: