By Daniela Sol
Last Monday, the portrait of former president, Barack Obama, was unveiled in the National Portrait gallery. The anticipation of the reveal of the portrait has been looming over Washington D.C. People from all over the country were excited to see what would be displayed to represent such a historic president.
The portrait was done by painter Kehinde Wiley who is known for twisting the conventional and praising the modern. When Obama announced Wiley as the painter for his portrait, the expectations where just what the artists delivered— a playful, unique, interesting, and non-conventional presidential portrait. His most known technique is the typical post-modern strategy of pastiche. Pastiche is “mixing and matching styles and characters typically not viewed together to see whether unexpected meanings can arise,” said Seph Rodney, a writer for NBC News.
This is the exact technique seen in Obama’s portrait. The former president is sitting dressed in a suit— without a tie— in a leafy green background with a random array of flowers throughout the ivy. Although the almost-surrealist background is a juxtaposition to the life-like appearance of Obama, it works well, as the artist also transmitted the same realism to the plants. It is interesting to see the contrast between the detailed strokes of the artist, which makes the figures seem so realistic, and how the former president is shown as a floating image amongst a garden.
The painter captured what Obama represented in his time as president; a president that enchanted the youths, represented the oppressed, and supported radically modern ideas. The fact that he is not wearing a tie is representational of this image the former president transmitted throughout his time in office: nonchalance and youthfulness. This is also transmitted through his body language, as he sits leaning forward as if attentively listening, yet his hands are crossed and his face is somewhat serious. This also represents the importance of what Obama’s election and re-election represented in the history of the country.
In the official reveal of the portrait, Obama said, “Thanks to Kehinde and Amy, generations of Americans— and young people from all around the world— will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. They’ll walk out of that museum with a better sense of the America we all love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Inclusive and optimistic. And I hope they’ll walk out more empowered to go and change their worlds. ”
Wiley and Obama both represent a monumental time for American history and the experience of being an important milestone in history has touched Wiley in numerous ways. He emphasized this to the audience as he unveiled his piece last week.
“The ability to be the first African-American painter to paint the first African-American president of the United States is absolutely overwhelming. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Wiley said.
The portrait is now open to the public. Due to its momentum, the lines to see it are long and the gallery is packed with people from all over who’ve come to witness the painting. It has also filled all social media outlets and news sources, making this one of the most covered and groundbreaking portrait revelations.