We are grateful to Peppa Martin, owner of the truth and beauty gallery in Vancouver, Canada, for writing about Kehinde Wiley : A New Republic, an exhibition at Seattle Art Museum last year. Follow Peppa on Twitter & Instagram for more information. Images courtesy of the artist and Peppa Martin.
The eye-popping exhibition, A New Republic, showcased Feb 11th to May 8th 2016 at the Seattle Art Museum, assembled an extensive series of life-size, oil on canvas portraits of young African-Americans, by rising American painter Kehinde Wiley (b.1977). The exhibition travels to Oklahoma and Ohio in 2017.
The colour-saturated paintings depict stylized figures staged in the familiar tradition of historical European portraiture, which frequently portrayed the aristocratic white ruling class. Here, using black models, Wiley reimagined these classical portraits for a modern age to powerfully confront entrenched conceptions of race, identity politics and status.
Each painting incorporates youthful subjects assuming a heroic, valiant pose surrounded by, and often overlapped with, an exuberant background of riotous pattern and robust colours. The palette combines an intense flurry of rich, arresting hues in thoughtfully balanced proportion surrounding the subject entirely, without overtaking it. Backgrounds brim with vibrant, tightly interwoven florals or dynamic jacquard prints extending edge to edge, filling the canvas with meticulous graphic ornamentation.
This contrasts with the unremarkable, everyday modern streetwear worn by the subjects, such as hoodies, sports jerseys and jeans. With a dignified air, figures occupy the foreground and centre of the frame– a focal point intended to elevate their stature and suggest authority.