Barack Obama Picks Kehinde Wiley To Paint His Official Presidential Portrait

A tradition that dates all the way back to America's 41st president, George H. Bush, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery commissions an artist to create a portrait of the president and the first lady after their tenure.

While America's former first lady Michelle Obama chose Baltimore-based painter Amy Sherald to capture her likeness, former president Barack Obama went with the gifted Nigerian-American painter, Kehinde Wiley.

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Kehinde is known for creating incredibly realistic paintings of everyday black men and women in the style of the old masters – such as Tiziano Vecellio and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. His work replaces the European aristocrats typically depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects.

He has also painted a couple iconic musicians including Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Ice T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Michael Jackson, and others. Speaking with PRI about what inspires his work, Kehinde said: 

"Most of the work that we see in the great museums throughout the world is populated with people who don’t happen to look like me.

As a child, I grew up studying and worshiping those great works of Western European painting. But I also wanted to fulfill the goal of feeling a certain personal presence in that work."

The portraits, which will be unveiled next year, will make Kehinde and Amy the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian. You can check out Kehinde's work on Instagram.

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TV taught me how to feel.