Kehinde Wiley is well known for his grand and ornate portraits depicting modern black men in street attire striking classical European art poses. The Yale-trained and New York City-based artist has painted rapper LL Cool J in the style of John Singer Sargent, Ice T as Emperor Napoleon by David and young African American men in stained glass tableaus, like saints in a cathedral. His crowning achievement, however, will be painting the official portrait of President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
“The reality of Barack Obama being the president of the United States—quite possibly the most powerful nation in the world—means that the image of power is completely new for an entire generation of not only black American kids, but every population group in this nation,” Wiley told BBC News in 2012.
Meanwhile, up-and-coming Baltimore artist Amy Sherald has been commissioned by the Smithsonian to paint the official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama.
As described by The Baltimore Sun, Sherald’s portraits of African-American models are known for her use of gray skin tones. In 2016, she became the first African-American and first woman to win the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition; she was chosen for the $25,000 award from among 2,500 entrants.
Sherald, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College, already has her work featured in collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
Both of the Obama paintings are scheduled to be unveiled next year and added to the National Portrait Gallery’s popular collection of presidential and first lady portraits.