Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Kehinde Wiley

Artists Kehinde Wiley is featured this week in yet another excellent issue of New York magazine, whose focus is the Brooklyn design scene. I don't claim to know a whole lot about the art world, but I still feel like an idiot for having never heard of Wiley prior to yesterday.

Doing a little Internet digging, I discovered that for one of his series, he picked his subjects off the streets of Harlem, where, at the time, he was doing an artist residency. I love how in a recent interview on the Harlem-inspired images, Wiley talks about how 125th has "this runway element to it," but what I really think is neat is how, in a nod to his subjects artistry, he includes them in the creative process. Read the interview excerpt below to find out how he does that.

"New York is more pedestrian, and there was a vibrancy there that I found really interesting. The idea of walking down 125th Street has this runway element to it; there's a sort of pomp that surrounds it. So initially I would just approach complete strangers and ask if I could paint their portrait.

I look for people who possess a certain type of power in the streets. You always look for that alpha male or alpha female character. But in the end it's about chemistry, and there's this agreement that gets entered into: How do you want to be shown? How do you want to appear to the world in perpetuity? Then that introduces questions concerning style of dress. People come in with their best on, but it's all a type of absolute fakery, this sort of constant construction upon construction. The whole thing is one big fabricated moment, but I guess that's the nature of painting itself.

So what was then just an attempt to paint a portrait of a casual stranger began a conversation with those people who were being selected. We would be in the Studio Museum, going through my books, and we'd talk about art history. Eventually I found it interesting to make paintings that they were interested in, and to go so far as to allow them to choose the subject matter."

And now, here are some of his portraits:

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