Artist Kehinde Wiley will have his first comprehensive presentation of his work to date at The Brooklyn Museum, opening February 20th and running through May 24th. Titled “A New Republic,” the show will highlight his 14 year career and will include paintings and sculptures, many that will be on view for the first time. After closing in Brooklyn, the show will travel to Fort Worth, Seattle and Richmond, Virginia.
Wiley, a Yale graduate who grew up in South Central Los Angeles, is well known on the art scene though his popular culture profile as of late has received an extra boost because of the appearance of his art work in the home of TV show Empire‘s male protagonist, Lucious Lyon. It’s a rich choice on the part of the show because Wiley is openly gay, which squares up with the story line for Lyon, who repeatedly has clashed with his gay son over his sexuality.
Just 37 years old, Wiley’s work is dominated by photo-based portraits of black men and women (whom he began including in 2012) that, as described by the Brooklyn Museum, “riff on specific paintings by Old Masters, replacing the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects, drawing attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives.”
Wiley scouts his models on the street and on his site’s frequently asked questions section says, “I look for alpha male behavior and sensibility,” and adds on his paintings backdrops, “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.”
For those looking for a deeper look at Wiley’s biography, the New York Times profiled him last month (image above is from the article) and discussed his childhood, education and process. On his work, Wiley explains, “It’s about a figure in the landscape. For me the landscape is the irrational. Nature is the woman. Nature is the black, the brown, the other.”