|Kehinde Wiley, Mrs. Waldorf Astor, 2012, Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches. From Hi-Fructose Magazine, Volume 29.|
INTERVIEW BY KRISTEN ANDERSON
When does a portrait transcend a mere pictorial representation of a subject caught in time, to take on a whole new sense of relevance to an entire age? This question is evoked when looking at the bombastic, pulsating works of Kehinde Wiley. The NY-based painter has taken the art world by storm in a very relatively short time, creating show after show of provocative and sensual works of young urban black men in modern street clothes in ambiguous, highly decorated backgrounds on large scale canvases.
Hi-Fructose: You are very successful in the highly elusive “blue chip” art world, and you did it as a figurative painter. That’s not common these days. I’d like to talk about what drew you to painting itself as the medium you chose vs. other, more conceptual vehicles. Painters tend to be highly passionate about the act of painting itself and I was wondering if you had thoughts on your connection to it as your chosen art form?Kehinde Wiley: What is it about portrait making that I like? I love the history of art. As a kid growing up in Los Angeles I would visit the Huntington Library and see portraits of wealthy powerful men with all of their possessions around them and in a lot of the grand narrative portraits I was looking at I wasn’t seeing people that looked like me. Something clicked and it wasn’t about copying the old master paintings in a way that you would see in an art institution, where you would copy the painting in order to learn how to paint. In this sense we were shadow dancing with this history, this amazing and beautiful and terrible history and creating an image of someone who was caught up in this moment an instant. When I revisit this portrait I am not only looking at a portrait of a young man, but also looking at a portrait of myself in Harlem. I’m seeing something that represents we as a society that can’t come to terms with a very dead and old art form. I’m also coming to terms with how I wanted to breathe life into something I have so much love for, which is painting.HF: Like many current successful artists, you paint but also use assistants to help create canvases. This is a turn from the idea of the painter as a solitary, almost tortured romantic figure. Did you ever subscribe to this mode of thought or right out of the gate did you see employing help as just a tool to get the scope of the job you set out to do get done?KW: Throughout art history master painters have employed assistants; from Michelangelo to Jeff Koons to myself. In the same way that I’m appropriating the style of the old masters, I’m echoing their process, which regularly employed the use of apprentices.
To read complete interview pick up a copy of Hi-Fructose Magazine Volume 29 on newsstands now or order online here.