When Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald unveiled Barack and Michelle Obama portraits, I was underwhelmed. To be upfront, I’m not a big fan of Kehinde. Save a magazine spread of Sherald, I was ignorant of her work.
That changed today. As I stood in front of Sherald’s painting of Michelle, I felt the power, grace, and stoicism. I loved how it walked a line between abstraction and representation. Her gaze is world-weary, knowing. I appreciated the attention to detail (lavender manicure) and the shout-out to Gee’s quilting in the patterned dress. The painting has flaws – wonky anatomy, so-so resemblance (looks like Kerry Washington), patchy areas of paint. The shortcomings do not hinder the painting’s magnificence. The painting is a radical departure from every First Lady Portrait that preceded it. Here is a painting of a black woman, a descendant of slaves, that displays both humility and power.
The Wiley painting: it FUCKING glows. GLOWS. And when it’s not glowing, it sparkles. He nailed it. God, I miss Obama.
My initial reactions were knee-jerk. Based more on preconceived notions of what I anticipated seeing instead of being based on the experience of seeing the work in person.