Kehinde Wiley: "The Black Andy Warhol"
Kehinde Wiley, now most known for his presidential portrait of Barack Obama, has long caught my attention as an artist whose artistic practice runs so closely adjacent to the famed Andy Warhol.
Introduced to Wiley through a PBS documentary Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace, Wiley’s work far from simplistic, is embedded with various motifs and surface statements of black identity and sexuality. The observation also made by one of his colleagues who called Wiley “the black Andy Warhol” (4:52) both responded to the comment as a weighty one. Warhol, a very complex figure on his own, allows this statement of comparison problematic and slightly unfavorable for this rising artist to be campaigned next to.
Similarities: The ways in which Wiley and Warhol are alike
His choice of repetition: Although this documentary highlights Wiley’s first time approaching females as his subject for his work instead of his usual masculine figures, he always chooses a floral backdrop to surround his subjects.
The spectacle of it all. Thriving as the poster child for the Pop Art movement, the basis of all his work surrounded this notion of FAME. Warhol’s coined statement “15 seconds of fame” is exactly what Wiley gave the random passerby’s on 125th Street Harlem who agreed to be a part of his project.
The “artistic businessman” type. Naturally, many of the women who were approached were hesitant and unconvinced of his spiel. Presenting himself as a businessman, Wiley adopts the same artistic persona Warhol did. Their authenticity constantly questioned judging if their principles match their intention.
God like presence: Their self induced power to change someone’s entire life on a whim. Warhol choosing Edie Sedgwick to test his theory of fame that anyone can be made into an overnight celebrity, he included her into many of his pieces and was instrumental in her success as an actress and model. Wiley, taking black women quite overlooked by their economic and social hardships exported them from their middle class lifestyles and shoved them into designer dresses and wardrobe. One model most keen to Wiley’s project because of the opportunity to finally pursue modeling again, felt as if she had finally achieved that vision. The weight of the power both artists held in transforming one’s life is a very fragile undertaking.
Process through production: Massive projects in which either artist does not hesitate to call upon an entire team of workers to complete their art piece. Warhol doing so through his screen-printing process for his famed works like Marilyn Monroe prints and Wiley having a team of workers with him in China, painting his branded flowered backdrop. Both requiring an assembly team, the artistic hand is both in question.
Advantageous of their times, Kehinde Wiley and Andy Warhol focus their art on what their present society is missing. For Warhol, it was the lack of reality. The star studded new world of the 1960's glamorized eveyones view of the world, making them all unaware of the infiltrating consumption to be sold on almost anything, including his art. Wiley with a fixed lens on the untold black everyday figures, had an easier compliance and respect from the black community because of his choice to make such a marginalized group an area of focus within all his work. Many people wary of his way of representation, his success is deeply rooted in appeasing to what black people want to see, inclusion and entitlement to be seen.
Artists of their time.
Written by Jasmine Boothe