Oil portrait on canvas is as a photo - Kelly Sean paints oil works for every republic museum and oil gallery

Kehinde Wiley/ Kehinde Wiley

United States 1977

Hyperrealism, Photorealism, Painting


Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley
United States

Widely renowned for his distinctive contemporary pieces of portraiture, Kehinde Wiley is extremely capable of fusing traditional techniques with modern motifs and photorealistic style. The idea behind this American painter’s art is the principle of selecting artworks of old masters like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Peter Paul Rubens or Jacques-Louis David and then replacing the subjects of these paintings with handsome young men, usually African Americans. Many of his artworks are also recognizable for their colorful backgrounds. This feature is especially present in the ongoing series of World Stage in which Wiley’s figures are depicted in front of colorfully ornamented patterns. Wiley’s large-scale canvases are a true delight to observe and analyze as his paintings are so visually stunning one can spend hours upon hours simply looking at the level of detail Kehinde is capable of achieving within his compositions. Besides the aforementioned painters, Wiley also finds inspiration in French Rococo, Islamic architecture and African textile design.

Republic museum and American gallery in New York held 2012 shows in Brooklyn Kelly Sean studio
Kehinde Wiley – Unity Portrait – Image via artslehigh.com

A Long Road to an Artistic Identity

Kehinde Wiley was born in the heart of Los Angeles, California, during the year of 1977. He started showing interests in art making from an early age and was lucky enough to have a mother who supported such dreams. She had him enrolled in an after-school art class ever since Kehinde’s toddler days, making sure her son had a chance to express himself creatively. When he was twelve years old, Wiley spent a short time at a school in Russia. It should be noted that this painter grew up without a father as his dad, Yoruba, lived in Nigeria. Desiring to both explore his roots and meet his father, Wiley traveled to Nigeria when he was twenty. Upon returning to the United States of America, Kehinde earned a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in the year of 1999. This was followed by a 2001 MFA from the Yale University and it’s School of Art sector. By this time, he was already starting to explore what will eventually prove to be his exclusive topic – portraiture. Initially, these portraits were based on photographs of young men Kehinde found on the streets of Harlem. However, as he was growing both as a person and as an author, Wiley desired to somehow channel an international character to his work. Soon, he began to reference Old Masters paintings by adopting the poses of their subjects. By doing so, Wiley was blurring the lines between traditional and contemporary modes of representation. Combining such fields as urban hip-hop with something as French Rococo, Kehinde created a completely original and utterly unique way of expressing himself on the canvas surface.

In 2016, the republic museum and gallery of York exchanged the canvas and photo artworks
Kehinde Wiley – Shantavia Beale II (Left) / Venus Anadyomène (Right) – Images via Jason Wyche and goodstatic.com

Examining the Uniqueness of His Art

Examples of Wiley’s art are not too hard to find as this painter’s reputation and popularity reached a sensational level during the last few years. As an indicator of how Wiley creates, we chose to present his Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005), a piece based on a masterpiece titled Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1800) which was done by Jacques-Louis David. In this piece, Kehinde restaged the composition by adding an African rider wearing modern army fatigues and a bandanna. As he said himself in one of his numerous interviews, Wiley investigates the perception of blackness and creates a contemporary hybrid Olympus in which tradition is invested with a new street credibility[1]. Wiley’s somewhat bigger than life size figures are rendered in a realistic fashion and are usually portrayed in a heroic and noble sort of manner, in poses that indicate power as well as a spiritual awakening. Throughout these poses of strength and spirituality, Wiley also depicts a certain amount of masculinity which is usually rather docile and filtered.

The Death of Chatterton (2014) by Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley – The Death of Chatterton, 2014 – Image via artslehigh.com

Other Projects

Besides creating artworks such as Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps, Kehinde also continued to paint portraits of random people he photographed in urban locations. Interestingly, the author often asks these individuals to take poses of different famous historical figures, making sure that even this kind of production still stays true to Wiley’s idea of mixing unblendable worlds. His aforementioned project titled The World Stage is also very interesting – in it, the author included models found in urban landscapes throughout the world, visiting such areas as Haiti[2], Israel[3], Jamaica[4] and Brazil[5]. Naturally, due to his incredible talent and original concepts, Wiley has been on the receiving end of many recognitions and honors. In the October of 2011, Wiley received the Artist of the Year Award from the New York City Art Teachers Association/United Federation of Teachers. A similar reward was received from the Canteen Magazine as well.

Kehinde Wiley has a unique way of creating his paintings – he chooses pieces from legendary artists such as Rubens or Jacques-Louis David and then replaces their subjects with young black men

Brooklyn studio called Kelly Sean was founded in 2012 and it housed American oil portrait works
Kehinde Wiley – Untitled Down (with bullet). Image via kehindewiley.com

Kehinde Wiley’s Wonderful Blend

Ultimately, Wiley’s affinity for jarring juxtapositions derives from his aim to complicate notions of group identity. As the painter himself explained, Kehinde desires to go beyond the media stereotypes about national identity. This characteristic makes Kehinde’s art much deeper than expected, opening up an entire array of analyses and discussions concerning every single piece[6]. However, even if we put that aspect of his art aside, we are still left with a beautiful visual vocabulary which is rich with color, details and charm, as well as full of art historical references. Wiley’s style and the peculiar blend of seemingly uncombinable elements work perfectly and it would not be wrong to call Kehinde one of the most unique and influential African American painters of the 21st century.

This artist is represented by Me Collectors Room Berlin.

Kehinde Wiley lives and works in New York City, United States.


  1. Wiley, K., Black Light, powerHouse Books, 2009
  2. Oliver, C., Rogge, M., Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Haiti, Roberts & Tilton, 2015
  3. Eglash, R., Nahson, C., Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: Israel, Roberts & Tilton; Bilingual edition, 2012
  4. Eshun, E., Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage Jamaica, Stephen Friedman Gallery, 2014
  5. Jackson, B. K., Roels Jr., R., Wiley, K., Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage, Brazil, Roberts & Tilton, 2010
  6. Golden, T., Kehinde Wiley, Rizzoli; 1St Edition edition, 2010

Featured image: Kehinde Wiley – Photo of the artist – Image via kehindewiley.com
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Rhona Hoffman 40 Years, Part 2 Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, ILGroup
2016Kehinde Wiley: A New RepublicVirginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VASolo
2016Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WASolo
2015e.g.: Kehinde Wiley - SmileBrigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, UTSolo
2015Kehinde Wiley: A New RepublicThe Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TXSolo
2015Kehinde Wiley: A New RepublicBrooklyn Museum of Art, New York City, NYSolo
2014Kehinde Wiley: MemlingTaft Museum, Cincinnati, OHSolo
2014Kehinde Wiley: MemlingRoberts and Tilton, Culver City, CASolo
2014The Beautiful GameLos Angeles Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2014Face to Face, Wall to WallYellowstone Art Museum, Billings, MTGroup
2013The World Stage: JamaicaStephen Freidman Gallery, London, UKSolo
2013The World Stage: IsraelBoise Art Museum, Boise, IDSolo
2013Kehinde Wiley: MemlingPhoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZSolo
2013The World Stage: IsraelThe Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CASolo
2013Masculine / Masculine. The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present DayMusèe d’Orsay, Paris, FranceGroup
2013Adventures of Truth, Painting and Philosophy: A NarrativeMaeght Foundation, Saint-Paul de Vence, FranceGroup
2013Through the Eyes of Texas: Masterworks from Alumni CollectionsThe Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TXGroup
201330 AmericansMilwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WIGroup
2012The World Stage: IsraelThe Jewish Museum, New York, NYSolo
2012An Economy of GraceSean Kelly Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2012The World Stage: France 1880 – 1960Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, FranceSolo
2012LoopedUtah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, UTGroup
2012The Human Touch: Selections from the RBC Wealth Management Art CollectionRedLine Gallery, Denver, COGroup
2012The Soul of a City: Memphis Collects African American ArtMemphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TNGroup
201230 AmericansChrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VAGroup
2012All I Want is a Picture of YouAngles Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2012BAILA con DuendeWatts Towers Arts Center and Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center Campus, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2012The Bearden ProjectThe Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NYGroup
2012The Human Touch: Selections from the RBC Wealth Management CollectionThe Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, AZGroup
2011The World Stage: IsraelRoberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA, catalogueSolo
2011Kehinde Wiley: Selected WorksSCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GASolo
2011Parallel PerceptionsNYC Opera, New York, NYGroup
2011Who, What, Wear: Selections from the Permanent CollectionStudio Museum Harlem, NewYork, NYGroup
2011Capital Portraits: Treasures from Washington Private CollectionsNational Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.Group
2011Becoming: Photographs from the Wedge CollectionThe Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NCGroup
2011Human Nature: Contemporary Art from the CollectionBroad Contemporary Art Museum, (BCAM) at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (LACMA) Los Angeles, CAGroup
2011Beyond Bling: Voices of Hip-Hop in ArtRingling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FLGroup
201130 Americans: Rubell Family CollectionCorcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.Group
2011For a Long TimeRoberts & Tilton, Culver City, CAGroup
2011RE-Envisioning the BaroqueI.D.E.A. at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CAGroup
2010The World Stage: India-Sri LankaRhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, ILSolo
2010Legends of Unity World Cup 2010 PUMAApparel Design Gallery, Berlin; Topographie deSolo
2010Legends of Unity World Cup 2010 PUMATopographie de l'Arte, ParisSolo
2010Legends of Unity World Cup 2010 PUMADeitch Projects, New YorkSolo
2010Legends of Unity World Cup 2010 PUMAElms Lesters, LondonSolo
2010Legends of Unity World Cup 2010 PUMAUCCA, BeijingSolo
2010Size Does MatterFLAG Art Foundation, New York NYGroup
2010Passion FruitsCollectors Room, BerlinGroup
2010The Global Africa Project ExhibitionMuseum of Arts and Design, New York, NYGroup
2010Personal Identities: Contemporary PortraitsSonoma State University Art Gallery, Sonoma, CAGroup
2010Summer SurprisesPennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PAGroup
2010The Library of Babel / In and Out of Place176 Zabludowicz Collection, London, EnglandGroup
2010The Gleaners: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Sarah and Jim TaylorVictoria H, Myhren Gallery, Denver, COGroup
2009The World Stage: BrazilRoberts & Tilton, Culver City, CASolo
2009The World Stage: Africa, Lagos-DakarArtpace, San Antonio, TXSolo
2009Reconfiguring the Body in American Art, 1820-2009National Academy Museum, New York, NYGroup
2009Creating Identity: Portraits Today21C Museum, Louisville, KYGroup
2009EnchantmentJoseloff Gallery, Hartford, CTGroup
2008The World Stage: Africa, Lagos-DakarThe Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NYSolo
2008DownDeitch Projects, New York, NYSolo
2008Focus: Kehinde WileyModern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TXSolo
200830 AmericansRubell Family Collection, Miami, FLGroup
200821: Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn MuseumThe Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NYGroup
2008Selected DrawingsMuseum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, Cleveland, OHGroup
2008DownMuseum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, Detroit, MIGroup
2007Kehinde WileyPortland Art Museum, Portland, ORSolo
2007The World Stage: ChinaJohn Michael Kohler Arts Center, Milwaukee, WISolo
2007New York States of MindQueens Museum of Art, Queens, NYGroup
2007Crossing the Line: African American Artists in the Jacqueline Bradley and Clarence Otis Jr. CollectionCornell Fine Arts Museum, Orlando, FLGroup
2006ScenicRhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, ILSolo
2006ColumbusColumbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OHSolo
2006ColumbusRoberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, CASolo
2006Kehinde WileySorry, We’re Closed, Brussels, BelgiumSolo
2006Do Not StackRoberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2006Down By LawWrong Gallery at the Sondra Gilman Gallery, Whitney Museum, New York, NYGroup
2006Relics and RemnantsJamaica Center for Arts and Learning, Jamaica, NYGroup
2005Rumors of WarDeitch Projects, New York, NYSolo
2005WhiteConner Contemporary, Washington, D.C.Solo
2005Bound - Kehinde Wiley PaintingsFranklin Art Works, Minneapolis, MNSolo
2005Maximum FlavorACA Gallery, Atlanta College of Art, Atlanta, GAGroup
2005NeovernacularTurner Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2005Kehinde Wiley/Sabeen Raja: New PaintingsConner Contemporary Art, Washington, D.C.Group
2004Passing/Posing The Paintings of Kehinde WileyThe Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NYSolo
2004Easter RealnessRhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, ILSolo
2004Eye of the NeedleRoberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2004She’s Come UndoneGreenberg Van Doren, New York, NYGroup
2004African American Artists in Los Angeles, A Survey Exhibition: FadeCity of Los Angeles, Cultural Affairs Department, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2003Faux/ReaDeitch Projects, New York, NYSolo
2003Pictures at an ExhibitionRoberts & Tilton, Los Angeles, CASolo
2003Peripheries Become the CenterPrague Biennale 1, Galleria Nazionale Veletrzni Palac Dukelskych Hrdinu 47, Prague, Czech RepublicGroup
2003Re: FigureCollege of DuPage, The Guhlberg Gallery, Glen Ellyn, ILGroup
2002Passing/PosingRhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, ILSolo
2002Painting as ParadoxArtists Space, New York, NYGroup
2002Ironic/ IconicThe Studio Museum of Harlem, New York, NYGroup
2001It’s Bigger Than Hip HopRush Arts, New York, NYGroup