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Mon, 02.28.1977

Kehinde Wiley, Artist born

Kehinde Wiley

*Kehinde Wiley was born on this date in 1977. He is a Black Gay portrait painter known for his highly naturalistic paintings of African America, frequently referencing the work of Old Master paintings.

Wiley was born in Los Angeles, California. His father, Isaiah D. Obot, is a Yoruba man from Nigeria, and his mother, Freddie Mae Wiley, is African American. Wiley has a twin brother. The twins were raised by their mother; once their father, who had come to the US as a scholarship student, finished his studies, he returned to Nigeria, leaving Freddie to raise the couple's six children. Wiley has said that his family survived on welfare checks and the limited income earned by his mother's 'thrift store' – which consisted of a patch of sidewalk outside their home.

When he was a child, his mother wanted him and his brother to stay out of the streets, and so she supported their interest in art and enrolled them in after-school art classes. At 11, Wiley and his brother were selected with 48 other kids to spend a short time at a conservatory of art in Russia, just outside St. Petersburg. It was here that Wiley developed his passion for portraiture. Wiley noted that his brother was better at portraiture than he was, creating a competitive sense between them. The siblings would compete to see who could recreate the most realistic images. He continued with other classes in the US.

Wiley has kept his personal life private but acknowledges that he identifies as a gay man. About his sexuality, Wiley has said, "my sexuality is not black and white. I am a gay man who has drifted. I am not bi. I've had perfectly pleasant romances with women, but they weren't sustainable. My passion wasn't there. I would always be looking at guys."

Wiley traveled to Nigeria at the age of 20 to meet his father and explore his family roots there. He earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999 and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art in 2001; before becoming an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, who Wiley has later stated: "made [him] the artist [he] is today." Wiley has cited the Artist Kerry James Marshall as being a big influence on him. Jeffrey Deitch gave Wiley his first solo show – Passing/Posing – at the Hoffman Gallery in Chicago in 2005. Deitch later represented him for the next ten years. The Columbus Museum of Art, which hosted an exhibition of his work in 2007, describes his work as follows: "Wiley has gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young Black men in contemporary culture."

His work was exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Recognize exhibit in 2008. Puma AG commissioned Wiley to paint four portraits of prominent African soccer players. Patterns from his paintings went into Puma's athletic gear. The complete series, Legends of Unity: World Cup 2010, was exhibited in early 2010 at Deitch Projects in New York City. In October 2011, Wiley received the Artist of the Year Award from the New York City Art Teachers Association/United Federation of Teachers. He also received Canteen Magazine's Artist of the Year Award.

Two of Wiley's paintings were featured on the top of 500 New York City taxi cabs in early 2011 to collaborate with the Art Production Fund.  Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic was a retrospective at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, VA) in the summer of 2016. It displayed nearly 60 of his paintings and sculptures. He was commissioned in 2017 to paint a portrait of former President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, which has portraits of all previous American presidents. Between 2014 and 2018, he created Black Rock Senegal in Yoff, an artist residence designed by Senegalese architect Abib Djenne. Wiley was in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2018.  

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