Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley, born in 1977 in Los Angeles, is a prominent American artist acclaimed for his vibrant and reimagined portraits that fuse contemporary subjects with classical European painting styles.

When Barack Obama needed an artist for his first presidential portrait, it was no surprise that he commissioned Kehinde Wiley.

Kehinde was born in 1977, and as his Yoruba name signifies he is the second-born twin. He grew up in the predominantly Black neighbourhood of South Central LA and was classically trained in Fine Art at Yale. 

Painting of Barack Obama sat on a chair, background is full of leaves and flowers

President Barack Obama, 2018

Painting of a tattooed black man, background is full of cherry blossoms

Sharrod Hosten Study IV, 2010

Kehinde brings together these varied cultural experiences in his work, always foregrounding Black people.

His protagonists are often based on models he finds on the street, or Black cultural icons, from Haiti to Harlem. He transforms them into figures from mythology and history – Napoleon, Judith, Yoruba deities – with all the drama and grandeur of the Old Masters

Although Kehinde maintains the political atheism of his art, he acknowledges the significance of his position and  practice as a Black gay artist. 

Painting of a three black women sitting on a red piece of fabric, patterned floral background

Three Girls in the Woods, 2018

Painting of a black man holding a sword on a rearing horse, background is a red sky with golden foliage curling around them

Officer of the Hussars, 2007

More in this series

See all



Subscribe to the Avant Arte newsletter for the art world in your inbox.

By continuing, you’re agreeing to our terms & conditions and privacy policy.

Discover more insights

See all