This is something that, as artists, we constantly deal with-throwing away the past, slaying the father, and creating the new. This desire to throw away the old rules.— Kehinde Wiley
The most craziest Kehinde Wiley quotes that are new and everybody is talking about
I feel sometimes constrained by the expectation that the work should be solely political. I try to create a type of work that is at the service of my own set of criteria, which have to do with beauty and a type of utopia that in some ways speaks to the culture I'm located in.
Women are expected to identify gender as a starting point.
Ethnicities are expected to identify that as a location. Is it ever possible for the artist to imagine a state of absolute freedom? That was my call to arms.
That's partly the success of my work-the ability to have a young black girl walk into the Brooklyn Museum and see paintings she recognizes not because of their art or historical influence but because of their inflection, in terms of colors, their specificity and presence.
We have a lot of sort of received historical ways of viewing portraiture.
And I suppose in some way I'm sort of questioning that by toying with the rules of the game.
We're wired to be empathetic and to care about the needs of others, but also to be curious about others. And I think that's just sort of in our DNA. And so portraiture is a very human act.
There's quite obviously the desire to open the rule sets that allow for inclusion or disclusion. I think that my hope would be that my work set up certain type of precedent, that allowed for great institutions, museums and viewers to see the possibilities of painting culture to be a bit more inclusive.
I guess art is in the eye of the beholder.
It became a question of taste. I have a certain taste in art history. And that - I had a huge library of art history books in my studio. And I would simply have the models go through those books with me, and we began a conversation about, like, what painting means, why we do it, why people care about it why or how it can mean or make sense today.
What came out of that was an intense obsession with status anxiety.
So much of these portraits are about fashioning oneself into the image of perfection that ruled the day in the 18th and 19th centuries. It's an antiquated language, but I think we've inherited that language and have forwarded it to its most useful points in the 21st century.
Almost as though the painting itself becomes the embodiment of a type of struggle for visibility, and this might be considered the main subject of the painting.
I think that I'm increasingly aware of the fact that in order to work towards any statement that's radically global or universal, you have to start in a place that's radically intimate and particular.
I began working within the streets of Harlem, where, after graduating from Yale [University, New Haven, CT], I became the artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem [New York, NY]. I wanted to know what that was about. I would actually pull people from off of the streets and ask them to come to my studio.
I try to create a place of disorientation.
I think that artists provide questions, not answers.
We provide provocations rather than fully formed objects.
Status and class and social anxiety and perhaps social code are all released when you look at paintings of powerful individuals from the past.
I'd like to walk that fine line between the authentic artist self and the manufactured artist self. I'd like to exist outside of a set of expectations or assumptions about what the Kehinde Wiley brand is. And I'd like to walk towards something that's a bit more unpredictable, human.
I enjoy Chicago as one of the great American cities.
When I come here and take a taxi from the airport, I meet a young man from Somalia. I meet a young man from Eritrea who engages with this nation with a sense of hope and a sense of desire. But we also we know that there are other elements of this nation that are toxic.
I think it's really useful to create parameters.
The term you use can be forwarded into something more like a grid, a rubric, a system that you apply to all environments, and in so doing you create a situation in which you can locate local color, local differences within new environments.
It's a culture. It's - I mean, people obsess over this. And people create subcultures that identify - and there are people in the streets who will recognize certain patterns and signifiers.
I use those expectations as a color on my palette, a certain temperature in the room. You can use those expectations for the great punchline, but also for a great painting, in society.
I think what we should concentrate on is what it feels like to be a working artist in the day to day. One doesn't imagine what comes down the line.
I believe the artist is capable of contributing to the broader evolution of culture in all of its dimensions.
One of my most strong memories was studying with Mel Bochner, one of the, I think, high water marks of American conceptual art.
Joseph Gotto, yeah. Just all-around one of the more inspiring artists - not because of any sort of specific content direction, but rather the respect that I had for his own work and the ability for him to translate his ideas into useful form for me as a student.
A realization and a dissection of the canon gave rise to the work.
But there's also a sneaking suspicion of the canon.
What we have now is a communication ability.
We have the ability to see working ideas that are going on in the great cities throughout the world and whether you live in Shanghai or you live in Sao Paulo, you have the ability of seeing and knowing the ideas of some of the greatest minds of our generation.
In our conversations, he [Michael Jackson] revealed a surprising understanding of art history. We were going through the finer points of the difference between one Italian sculptor to the next. You know, this - these are things that we don't necessarily assume of people in sanctified light.
There are just so many different types of people that come into my studio, and secondarily, there's the idea of ideation, like, "Who are you and what do you see in yourself in this other person?" So many different people that you would see so many different things.
I have been painting models with black and brown skin only for the past years.
So, I did already have this experience, this is how I have come to the paintings I do now.
I mean, the radical contingency that is - that exists and the fact that I'm going into the streets and finding random strangers any given day - who's in these streets that day?
I was 12 in 1989 during perestroika, when my mother found a program that sent me to Russia to study art in the forests outside of Leningrad.
I think, something that you might be able to locate in the work that I'm creating today: the ability to look at a black America as something that not only can be mined in a very sort of cynical, cold way, but also embraced in a very personal, love-driven way; but also sort of critiqued.
If I have the same plan to go into the streets, find random strangers, use art-historical referent from their - from the specific location, to use decorative patterns from this location, that's a rule. That's a set of patterns that you can apply to all societies. But what gives rise or what comes out of each experiment is so radically different.
I think that an obsession with art history gave rise to the work.
There's a team of filmmakers who follow me in the streets when I'm finding these models, to give me a sense of legitimacy to a casual stranger. This is New York City. No one's going to follow you back to your studio.
You know, the process, I think, is the story.
And it goes back, again, to what I said about chance and about radical contingency, the idea that all of this is this well-oiled machine that's been reared up and, like, really articulated and thought about.
The work that I wanted to create wasn't being done then.
I was too much concerned about fellow students, professors, institutional style [in Yale].
There is something to be said about laying bare the vocabulary of the aristocratic measure, right? There's something to be said about allowing the powerless to tell their own story.
That's the trouble with, I think, my - the contemporary read of my work.
So many people just simply say, "These are pretty pictures of black boys." They're not really thinking about, like, what the whole thing is.
[My twin brother] he was the star artist of the family as we - as we were growing up. He eventually lost interest and went more towards literature and then medicine and then business and so on. But for me it became something that I did well. And it felt great being able to make something look like something.
Just physically, if you looked at the house that I grew up in, my mother created this greenhouse. And surrounded the entire property. And there was, like, trees and sculptures and like - it was, like, this crazy, like, secret garden space.
All the world's a stage. P.T. Barnum: It becomes a circus. But circuses or street pageants or parades have always been useful in a society.They've always been useful as a way of critiquing power. The carnivalesque has always been useful as a way of the powerful being mocked in a public space.
Going back to that idea that painting sits still and that we give ourselves over to it over time. There's a difference between living with - imagine if this were sitting in your living room for 15 years. You'd probably understand the contours of it.
Mel Bochner was able to give me the tools to look at those types of experiences, register them with my own, but also hold them far enough away to see them 360.
I went back to my mother's house recently and I saw some of my earlier works as a 15-year-old art student. And a lot of them were reiterations of classic works.
I think that just the nature of art education in schools, it's about packs, you know? Like, we're young wolves running together, creating a consensus. And consensus is antithetical to the art process.
I think it was a matter of, like, I'm not going to have my kids in these wild streets. Both my twin brother and I were in art school together.
I've had moments where I've met people who were complete, like, idiots, who could not understand visual culture to save their lives.
While I can hire out the portrait, I don't, because it's just - that's where I shine. You know, that's my blood sport.