Beginning October 19th, the St. Louis Art Museum will open an exhibition titled Kehinde Wiley: Saint Louis which is strongly connected to the city and informed by visits the artist made in 2017. Through a process of street casting, Wiley invited strangers to pose for paintings and then created eleven original portraits inspired by carefully chosen works in the Museum’s collection.
Born in 1977, Wiley is a New York City-based portraitist known for his highly naturalistic paintings of African-Americans. Initially, he based his portraits on photos he took of young men found on the streets of Harlem, but now has encompassed an international view, including models found in urban landscapes throughout the world. His large body of work called “The World Stage” includes work from several countries, including Jamaica, China, Lagos and Brazil. While Wiley uses models dressed in their everyday clothing, they are often asked to assume poses found in sculptures of paintings representative of the history of their own surroundings.
Per Wiley’s artist statement, (http://kehindewiley.com/) he is inspired by classical European paintings, particularly of royalty, aristocrats and noblemen. He states, “Whenever I do photo shoots for paintings, I pull out a stack of books, whether it be something from the High Renaissance or the late French Rococo or the 19th century, it’s all thrown together in one big jumble. I take the figure out of its original environment and place it in something completely made up. Most of the backgrounds I end up using are sheer decorative devices. Things that come from things like wallpaper or the architectural façade ornamentation of a building, and in a way it robs the painting of any sense of place or location, and it’s located strictly in an area of the decorative. For the backgrounds in the World Stage Series, I look for traditional decorative objects, textiles, or devotional objects of that culture to draw upon.”
If you would like to prepare for your visit to this exhibition, the Library has several books by and about this artist. We also have a wealth of materials on decorative objects, textiles, architectural ornamentation and much more. For more information, please ask our friendly staff in the Fine Arts Room and we’ll be happy to assist!