Kehinde Wiley was born in Los Angeles, California in 1977. His father is Yoruba from Nigeria, and his mother is African-American. As a child, his mother supported his interest in art and enrolled him in after school art classes. At the age of 12, he spent a short time at an art school in Russia. Wiley did not grow up with his father, and at the age of 20 he traveled to Nigeria to explore his roots and meet him.
Wiley's painting style has been compared to that of such traditional portraitists as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian and Ingres. The Columbus Museum of Art, which hosted an exhibition of his work in 2007, describes his work with the following: "Kehinde Wiley has gained recent acclaim for his heroic portraits which address the image and status of young African-American men in contemporary culture."
Wiley’s paintings often blur the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation. Rendered in a realistic mode–while making references to specific Old Master paintings–Wiley creates a fusion of period styles, ranging from French Rococo, Islamic architecture and West African textile design to urban hip hop and the "Sea Foam Green" of a Martha Stewart Interiors color swatch. Wiley's slightly larger than life size figures are depicted in a heroic manner, as their poses connote power and spiritual awakening. Wiley’s portrayal of masculinity is filtered through these poses of power and spirituality.
Wiley's Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005) is based on Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1800) by Jacques-Louis David, often regarded as a "masterpiece", now restaged by Wiley with an African rider wearing modern army fatigues and a bandanna. Wiley "investigates the perception of blackness and creates a contemporary hybrid Olympus in which tradition is invested with a new street credibility".
His portraits are based on photographs of young men who Wiley sees on the street. He painted men from Harlem’s 125th Street, then South Central neighborhood where he was born. Dressed in street clothes, his models were asked to assume poses from the paintings of Renaissance masters, such as Tiziano Vecellio and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
The artist describes his approach as "interrogating the notion of the master painter, at once critical and complicit." Wiley’s figurative paintings "quote historical sources and position young black men within that field of power.” In this manner, Wiley’s paintings fuse history and style in a unique and contemporary manner.
Wiley is currently represented by Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California; Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, New York; Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris/Brussels; and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, United Kingdom.
His work is found in many public collections throughout the world, including the Toledo Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Brooklyn Museum; Columbus Museum of Art; Kansas City Museum; Oak Park Public Library in Oak Park, Illinois; Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, New York; The Jewish Museum (New York) in New York, New York; High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia; Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona; Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California; Hammer Museum, in Los Angeles, California; Milwaukee Art Museum; Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina, Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, North Carolina, and the DIA - Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan.
- 2013 The World Stage: Jamaica at Stephen Freidman Gallery, London, UK
- 2013 The World Stage: Israel at Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID
- 2013 Kehinde Wiley: Memling at Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
- 2013 The World Stage: Israel at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA
- 2012 The World Stage: France at Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, France
- 2012 An Economy of Grace at Sean Kelly, New York, NY
- 2012 Kehinde Wiley / The World Stage: Israel at The Jewish Museum (New York)
- 2011 – January 29, 2012: Kehinde Wiley: Selected Works at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum of Art, Savannah, GA
- 2011: The World Stage: Israel at Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA
- 2010: The World Stage: India, Sri Lanka at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL
- 2010: Legends of Unity | World Cup 2010 | PUMA, several locations worldwide
- 2009: Black Light at Deitch Projects, New York, NY
- 2009: The World Stage: Africa at ArtSpace, San Antonio, TX
- 2009: The World Stage: Brazil at Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, CA
- 2006: Willem van Heythuysen at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA
Recognition and honors
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 as a collaboration with the Art Production Fund.
Wiley is featured in a commercial on the TV network USA as a 2010 Character Honoree.
Puma AG commissioned Wiley to paint four portraits of prominent African football players. Patterns from his paintings were incorporated into Puma athletic gear. The complete series, Legends of Unity: World Cup 2010, was exhibited in early 2010 at Deitch Projects in New York City.
- "Kehinde Wiley." Artnet. (retrieved 13 Oct 2010)
- "PUMA commissions Contemporary Artist Kehinde Wiley to create portraits of African Football Players to Celebrate World Cup 2010 Campaign." PUMA Creative. Jan 2010 (retrieved 13 Oct 2010)
- Columbus Museum of Art
- Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed. (2008). Art Now, Vol. 3: A cutting-edge selection of today's most exciting artists. Taschen. p. 512. ISBN 9783836505116.
- "Art: Kehinde Wiley." USA Network. (retrieved 13 Oct 2010)
- "Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke Olivares (captioned image)". Harper's (Harper's Foundation) 320 (1,919): 17. April 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2011. (subscription required)
- "Painting: Kehinde Wiley." National Portrait Gallery: Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture. (retrieved 13 Oct 2010)
- Kehinde Wiley on artnet Monographs
- Kehinde Wiley at Sean Kelly Gallery
- Kehinde Wiley's online portfolio
- Kehinde Wiley at Roberts & Tilton
- Interview with Kehinde Wiley, Anthem
- Interview with Kehinde Wiley, Flaunt
- Artist Towel Series 2008
- Kehinde Wiley / The World Stage : Interactive Map
- Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Brazil , monography by Brian Keith Jackson and Kimberly Cleveland, Ph.D., Roberts & Tilton Publications
- Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Israel , monography by Shalva Weil, Ph.D., Ruth Eglash and Claudia J. Nahson, Roberts & Tilton Publications
- Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: India, Sri Lanka Text by Gayatri Sinha. Interview by Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky), Rhona Hoffman Gallery Publications.