Obama Artists Merged the Everyday and the Extraordinary

“He and I make different sartorial decisions,” Mr. Obama continued, a joking reference to the Mr. Wiley’s bold clothing choices (he wore a black-and-white patterned suit to the ceremony). “But what we did find was we had certain things in common. Both of us had American mothers who raised us with extraordinary love and support. Both of us had African fathers who were absent in our lives.”

Photo

Michelle Obama and her portraitist, Amy Sherald. “She’s fly,” Mrs. Obama said. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

[ Read Holland Cotter’s assessment of the portraits. ]

Mr. Wiley, 40, whose father is Nigerian, was raised along with four siblings in South Central Los Angeles by his African-American mother, who relied on welfare benefits and earnings from the family thrift shop. His mother was present at the Portrait Gallery ceremony, and Mr. Wiley thanked her from the stage, with tears in his eyes.

“We did not have much but she found a way to get paint,” he said. “The ability to picture something bigger than that piece of South Central L.A. — you saw it, you did it, thank you.”

The artist also thanked Mr. Obama “for giving me a chance” and “for giving this nation a chance to experience your splendor.”

Part of what Mr. Obama saw in Mr. Wiley’s work, the former president said, was the capacity to elevate ordinary people to the level of royalty, those “so often out of sight and out of mind.”

“Kehinde lifted them up and gave them a platform and said they belong at the center of American life,” Mr. Obama said. “That was something that moved me deeply, that’s part of what I believe politics should be about — not simply celebrating the high and the mighty and expecting that the country unfolds from the top down but rather that it comes from the bottom up.”

On a lighter note, Mr. Obama said that, while he and Mr. Wiley saw eye to eye on most elements of the painting, there were a number of negotiating points during their two sittings. “I tried to negotiate less gray hair, and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked,” Mr. Obama said. “I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well.”

Video

Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald on Their Obama Portraits

After Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits were unveiled on Monday, the artists spoke about their experiences in an interview on Facebook Live.

By ROBIN POGREBIN on Publish Date February 12, 2018. .

Mr. Wiley tried posing him in settings “with partridges and scepters and thrones,” he said, even “mounting me on horses.”

“I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon,” Mr. Obama said. “You’ve got to bring it down just a touch.”

The former president also thanked Ms. Sherald “for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I love.”

Ms. Sherald, in her remarks, paid tribute to Mrs. Obama. “You exist in our minds and hearts in the way that you do because we can see ourselves in you,” she said. “What you represent to this country is an ideal — a human being with integrity, intellect, confidence and compassion. And the paintings I create aspire to express these attributes.”

Among the prominent figures who turned out for the ceremony were Steven Spielberg, the filmmaker, and his wife, the actress Kate Capshaw, who helped fund the commission of the portraits. Also in attendance were several former members of Mr. Obama’s administration, including Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general; David Axelrod, the former senior strategist; Jay Carney, the former press secretary; and Sam Kass, Mr. Obama’s senior policy adviser for nutrition (who sat with his baby in his arms). “We miss you guys,” Mr. Obama told them, in his remarks.

Mr. Wiley’s work often features African-Americans in the regal poses of emperors and kings, his own distinctive riff on historic portraiture. The Obama portrait, too, has its own majesty. But the former president is also depicted in a chair, with his hands crossed and elbows on his knees — a posture of informality and intimacy.

The two men paged through Mr. Wiley’s collection of art history books and thought about “the grand tradition of presidential portraits,” Mr. Wiley said, in an interview after the unveiling. “Then we decided very quickly that we were just going to strike out a path of our own and try to create a type of singular narrative surrounding what this picture looks like — discarding history but also embracing it at once.”

“The narrative had to do with accessibility, the narrative had to do with a language of openness,” Mr. Wiley added. “There were no ties, it’s an open collar, it’s a much more relaxed body language — the sense of repose yet at the same time a kind of radical vigilance in the eyes.”

Ms. Sherald’s portrait of Mrs. Obama similarly conveys a certain casualness. But, dressed in a flowing white patterned gown, the former first lady also projects what Ms. Sherald called “a quiet, strong presence,” one in keeping with Ms. Sherald’s own restrained style.

“You just feel connected to them because they’re so much like you. They just happen to be the first black president and the first black first lady. But other than that, they’re like your mother or your cousin or your dad,” Ms. Sherald said in an interview afterward. “It was great to walk into the Oval Office and to see these brown faces.”

Born in Columbus, Ga., Ms. Sherald waited tables and worked in an unheated studio before having her first solo show in Chicago and becoming the first woman to win the Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever competition. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure at age 30 — just as she was earning her master’s degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art and received a transplant at 39.

In selecting the artists, the Portrait Gallery worked with three advisers: Thelma Golden, the director of the Studio Museum in Harlem; Bill Allman, the former White House curator; and Michael Smith, the Obamas’ White House decorator.

“We’re really trying to engage contemporary artists today to be doing portraits,” said Kim Sajet, the Portrait Gallery’s director, in an interview after the ceremony, “to be thinking about the importance of what portraiture does in communicating with people.”

By choosing two black artists, Ms. Sherald said, the Obamas sent a strong message that people of color and paintings by people of color also belong on museum walls. “Something big happened, something that wasn’t supposed to happen happened: we had our first black president and our first black first lady,” Ms. Sherald said. “Their choices of Kehinde and I represent that.”

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What’s wrong with Obama’s hand in that official portrait?

I’m gonna go out on a limb here: I generally like the Obama official portrait.  It’s an odd style, but it expresses him, and what’s more, it reflects the art of his era.  It has a background that appears computer-generated as a flowey pattern, with a quite flattering visage of the first black president in a realistic rendition in the foreground.  It’s a composition that creates the appearance of vector art mixed with a photograph, very modern in the era of cell phones and quite similar to the mixed-media animation being produced by Hollywood.  I can feel the vibe of Playa del Rey and South Central and Melrose Avenue through this piece. And Obama, of course, spent massive time during his presidency hobnobbing with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood bigs at fundraisers around Los Angeles, so it’s very him.

It’s good just as Peter Hurd’s official portrait of Lyndon Baines Johnson was good.  (That was a more-flattering-than-he-deserved portrait, done in the most modern representational style of the era, which was done in the characteristic renditions of this Western artist, who also did this beautiful piece.)  Johnson, inexplicably, hated it and got a poem about it by Richard Wilbur for his idiocy.  Obama, on the other hand, loved his image, which says something about him as well, in more ways than one.

Here’s the problem: It’s not drawn very well.  The work shows a lack of skill in the basic rendering of an image.  The hands are out of proportion in size, even placed in the foreground, overly big.  One might be able to write that off as intentional, maybe a snarky contrast to the left’s claims about President Trump’s hand size and I am sure it was.  But the front hand itself has problems in construction, at least if the aim is to create a realistic hand placed against a surreal background.

Look at the problem: The fat pad under the palm seems to extend upward into the first half of the little finger.  Some observers think it appears like a concealed thumb placed on the wrong side.  Now it is possible to have a fatty hand with flesh that could extend that when pressed down; I went over some of my own drawings of hands to get that inference.  But one would have to have exceedingly loose skin, which Obama does not have.  There also should be skin-fold lines dividing the bottom of the little finger and the palm, at least if the hands are to be anatomically correct.  Another problem is that the wrist is exaggerated in its thinness.  No man has wrists that thin unless his entire stature is diminutive – again, which Obama’s is not.

The artist shows an embarrassingly weak ability to draw.

And maybe that’s inevitable in this era.  Drawing is devalued generally as photocopies and computer-generated graphics have taken over. It’s just as spelling has been degraded by spell-check.  When you can use a tool on an Adobe program to draw a perfect circle, you end up not being able to draw one freehand, because you no longer observe or practice.  Drawing takes practice, daily practice.  This is why Rubens, Degas, da Vinci, Delacroix and every classical artist there is had scads of notebooks – it was to keep practicing.  When I was a fine art student at Santa Monica College, where classical art was studied and copied intensively and was required of even the most out-there artists, we had to fill notebooks, drawing anything around us, repeatedly.  It’s the only way to get good.  One thing I learned from my professors there was a complaint of many professors in Los Angeles’s top art schools – and there are a lot in that city, including the rigorous Santa Monica College – is that incoming students in the age of the photocopy, the trace, and the computer-generated design, really aren’t coming in anymore with an ability to draw.

That brings us back to Kehinde Wiley.  He says he grew up drawing, but he doesn’t, at a minimum, seem to have kept in practice.  He’s known primarily as a showman, according to this 2012 profile in New York magazine, and he employs a lot of assistants, in China, in Senegal, and in the states.  His art is basically factory art, though it’s quite possible that, as a black gay artist commissioned to do Obama’s portrait, undoubtedly excited about the commission, he chose to do this one himself.  Well, the lack of technique shows.  No wonder there was a pretty conscious effort, at least among my lefty professors at SMC, not to teach or recommend Wiley’s work. So far, he is not taught in reputable schools, although many modern artists are.

The New York magazine piece says he’s primarily a showman, which is an L.A. thing, I suppose, and he has made a lot of hay as a black man who references classical white culture and appropriates it.  (Appropriation is not a dirty world in the postmodernist art world.)  He’s, in short, an affirmative action creation of the gallery world, which longs for a black artist to showcase.  Wiley’s skills seem to have fallen short of such attention.

This is not to say he’s not a fresh, original art voice in a sea of same-old abstracts.  His work does stand out, and I think he is.  But his skills are lacking, which makes him a bit less of an artist and more of an attention-getter.  His art may just be less art. Even the most deconstructive painters out there have historically had to learn to render representatively to produce art, to develop their skills, and those skills are necessary even in the creation of non-representational art.  Pablo Picasso is a prime example of that.

What we have here, in the Obama portrait, then, is not just a flattering portrait of Obama, and not just a utilization of the vector arts of the era, but also the loss of culture – in the affirmative action that got Wiley his commission and his fame (he gets $100,000 a pop for his portraits, according to the 2012 New York magazine piece, probably a lot more now) and in the factory art setup that allowed him to open multiple studios of assistants globally. We also have another example of someone dependent on technology that is so extensive that it debilitates his capacity for drawing.  In the past, artists were rewarded by their skills and merit.  Today, it’s all razzle-dazzle plus the right political correctness.

It represents the Obama era perfectly.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here: I generally like the Obama official portrait.  It’s an odd style, but it expresses him, and what’s more, it reflects the art of his era.  It has a background that appears computer-generated as a flowey pattern, with a quite flattering visage of the first black president in a realistic rendition in the foreground.  It’s a composition that creates the appearance of vector art mixed with a photograph, very modern in the era of cell phones and quite similar to the mixed-media animation being produced by Hollywood.  I can feel the vibe of Playa del Rey and South Central and Melrose Avenue through this piece. And Obama, of course, spent massive time during his presidency hobnobbing with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood bigs at fundraisers around Los Angeles, so it’s very him.

It’s good just as Peter Hurd’s official portrait of Lyndon Baines Johnson was good.  (That was a more-flattering-than-he-deserved portrait, done in the most modern representational style of the era, which was done in the characteristic renditions of this Western artist, who also did this beautiful piece.)  Johnson, inexplicably, hated it and got a poem about it by Richard Wilbur for his idiocy.  Obama, on the other hand, loved his image, which says something about him as well, in more ways than one.

Here’s the problem: It’s not drawn very well.  The work shows a lack of skill in the basic rendering of an image.  The hands are out of proportion in size, even placed in the foreground, overly big.  One might be able to write that off as intentional, maybe a snarky contrast to the left’s claims about President Trump’s hand size and I am sure it was.  But the front hand itself has problems in construction, at least if the aim is to create a realistic hand placed against a surreal background.

Look at the problem: The fat pad under the palm seems to extend upward into the first half of the little finger.  Some observers think it appears like a concealed thumb placed on the wrong side.  Now it is possible to have a fatty hand with flesh that could extend that when pressed down; I went over some of my own drawings of hands to get that inference.  But one would have to have exceedingly loose skin, which Obama does not have.  There also should be skin-fold lines dividing the bottom of the little finger and the palm, at least if the hands are to be anatomically correct.  Another problem is that the wrist is exaggerated in its thinness.  No man has wrists that thin unless his entire stature is diminutive – again, which Obama’s is not.

The artist shows an embarrassingly weak ability to draw.

And maybe that’s inevitable in this era.  Drawing is devalued generally as photocopies and computer-generated graphics have taken over. It’s just as spelling has been degraded by spell-check.  When you can use a tool on an Adobe program to draw a perfect circle, you end up not being able to draw one freehand, because you no longer observe or practice.  Drawing takes practice, daily practice.  This is why Rubens, Degas, da Vinci, Delacroix and every classical artist there is had scads of notebooks – it was to keep practicing.  When I was a fine art student at Santa Monica College, where classical art was studied and copied intensively and was required of even the most out-there artists, we had to fill notebooks, drawing anything around us, repeatedly.  It’s the only way to get good.  One thing I learned from my professors there was a complaint of many professors in Los Angeles’s top art schools – and there are a lot in that city, including the rigorous Santa Monica College – is that incoming students in the age of the photocopy, the trace, and the computer-generated design, really aren’t coming in anymore with an ability to draw.

That brings us back to Kehinde Wiley.  He says he grew up drawing, but he doesn’t, at a minimum, seem to have kept in practice.  He’s known primarily as a showman, according to this 2012 profile in New York magazine, and he employs a lot of assistants, in China, in Senegal, and in the states.  His art is basically factory art, though it’s quite possible that, as a black gay artist commissioned to do Obama’s portrait, undoubtedly excited about the commission, he chose to do this one himself.  Well, the lack of technique shows.  No wonder there was a pretty conscious effort, at least among my lefty professors at SMC, not to teach or recommend Wiley’s work. So far, he is not taught in reputable schools, although many modern artists are.

The New York magazine piece says he’s primarily a showman, which is an L.A. thing, I suppose, and he has made a lot of hay as a black man who references classical white culture and appropriates it.  (Appropriation is not a dirty world in the postmodernist art world.)  He’s, in short, an affirmative action creation of the gallery world, which longs for a black artist to showcase.  Wiley’s skills seem to have fallen short of such attention.

This is not to say he’s not a fresh, original art voice in a sea of same-old abstracts.  His work does stand out, and I think he is.  But his skills are lacking, which makes him a bit less of an artist and more of an attention-getter.  His art may just be less art. Even the most deconstructive painters out there have historically had to learn to render representatively to produce art, to develop their skills, and those skills are necessary even in the creation of non-representational art.  Pablo Picasso is a prime example of that.

What we have here, in the Obama portrait, then, is not just a flattering portrait of Obama, and not just a utilization of the vector arts of the era, but also the loss of culture – in the affirmative action that got Wiley his commission and his fame (he gets $100,000 a pop for his portraits, according to the 2012 New York magazine piece, probably a lot more now) and in the factory art setup that allowed him to open multiple studios of assistants globally. We also have another example of someone dependent on technology that is so extensive that it debilitates his capacity for drawing.  In the past, artists were rewarded by their skills and merit.  Today, it’s all razzle-dazzle plus the right political correctness.

It represents the Obama era perfectly.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Beyoncé’s dad discusses Solange’s Jay-Z fight on GMB

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Beyoncé’s dad made an unlikely appearance on Good Morning Britain today (February 13).

He came on the show to promote his new book Racism from the Eyes of a Child, but presenters Kate Garraway and Jeremy Kyle were more interested in talking about his famous daughters.

In particular, the duo wanted to ask Mathew Knowles about Solange’s fight with Jay-Z in a lift back in 2014 after attending the Met Gala.

Taking a very diplomatic stance, he said: “I hope and I feel very calm about this and comfortable that both Solange and Beyoncé were given the tools that they need to be successful.

“Are they going to make mistakes? Absolutely. But mistakes are an opportunity to grow, not a reason to quit. And so I feel comfortable about that.”

Mathew then went on to admit that he is worried about how prejudice may affect his daughters’ lives.

He explained: “I’m more concerned about what’s going to happen to them when we look at racism and colourism around the world. That’s my concern.

“It’s kind of like [Michelle] Obama said – she wasn’t concerned about [Barack] getting assassinated, she was concerned about him going to a grocery store to get gas and someone attacking him because he’s black. Let’s not forget, racism is all across America and all the world.”

Mathew also repeated his claim that one of the factors of Beyoncé’s success is her lighter skin tone compared to other black artists.

“It’s a fact,” he added, noting the success of other acts with lighter skin tones, such as Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Rihanna. “Colour does make a difference in pop radio.”

He famously managed Beyoncé throughout her rise to fame and for the duration of her time in Destiny’s Child.

But when she established herself as a solo artist, she decided to part ways with Mathew in a business sense.

Commenting on her decision, Mathew added: “It’s always hard for a parent to let go but I felt the same way when I was growing up. I didn’t want to be in my parents’ nest as I got older. That’s only natural. I think all of us have experienced that with our parents. So I understand that.”

Good Morning Britain is on ITV, weekdays at 6am.


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Barack Obama praises wife Michelle’s ‘hotness’ as official portraits unveiled

Updated February 13, 2018 08:14:31

Former United States president Barack Obama joked about his ears and grey hair and praised his wife Michelle Obama’s “hotness” at the unveiling of the couple’s official portraits at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

The Obamas tapped artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald for the paintings, which will be added to the National Portrait Gallery’s collection of presidential portraits.

Wiley and Sherald were the first black artists ever commissioned to paint a president or first lady for the Smithsonian.

For his portrait by Wiley, Mr Obama is depicted sitting in a brown chair with a backdrop of bright green leaves and colourful flowers.

Ms Obama’s painting shows her sitting with one hand under her chin and the other draped across her lap, while wearing a long flowing dress decorated with geometric shapes.

Mr Obama, who was the first African-American US president, complimented Sherald for her portrait.

“I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I love,” Mr Obama said.

He quipped that Wiley, who painted his portrait, was at a disadvantage because his subject was “less becoming”.

“I tried to negotiate less grey hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked,” Mr Obama said.

“I tried to negotiate smaller ears — struck out on that as well.”

The Obamas both expressed awe at their portraits, noting that they were the first people in their families to ever sit for an official painting.

Ms Obama said she hoped the portrait would have an impact on young girls of colour in the years ahead.

“They will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them, hanging on the wall of this great American institution,” she said.

“I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”

The Portrait Gallery’s tradition of commissioning presidential portraits began with former president George HW Bush.

Other portraits were acquired as gifts, bought at auctions or through other means.

Reuters

Topics: visual-art, arts-and-entertainment, human-interest, painting, united-states

First posted February 13, 2018 06:51:22

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Is Michelle Obama’s portrait a ‘modern-day Mona Lisa’ or does it miss the mark?

Updated February 13, 2018 15:42:19

We’ve now got a look at how former United States president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama will be immortalised at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

Artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald are behind the portraits, and they’re the first black artists ever commissioned to paint official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian.

And while there’s been praise for Mr Obama’s portrait, there’s been a mixed reaction to the portrait of Ms Obama, painted by Sherald.

The most common complaint? It doesn’t look like Michelle Obama.

Here’s New York Times art critic Holland Cotter, who said he was disappointed that the focus of Michelle Obama’s portrait appeared to be her dress:

“I was anticipating —hoping for — a bolder, more incisive image of the strong-voiced person I imagine this former first lady to be,” Cotter said in his review.

The presenter of Radio National’s The Art Hub, Eddie Ayres, agrees that the portrait hasn’t captured the “spirit” of Ms Obama.

“I love Michelle Obama, I think she’s an extraordinary woman. And she’s so powerful and so gracious and she mixed all that in with also appearing to be extremely kind,” he said.

“She’s got all these incredibly strong qualities and for me, looking at it (the portrait) on my little computer screen, it doesn’t look like they have been really captured.

“In my mind that portrait hasn’t quite captured the magnificence of Michelle Obama.”

But there was also plenty of praise for the work.

Reviewing the portraits for The Guardian, Jonathan Jones called Ms Obama’s portrait a “modern-day Mona Lisa”.

“Sherald’s painting is immediately fascinating, haunting and human. Its muted colours are poetic and unexpected,” Jones wrote.

The works wouldn’t have been a shock to the Obamas

They chose the artists personally, and Sherald’s portrait of Ms Obama is in line with her earlier works.

Sherald told the BBC in 2016 her decision to use hues of grey for skin “omits” the colour of her subject.

“I want my portraits to create a space where blackness can breathe,” she told the BBC.

“It was about creating a space where people could see the humanity of a person of colour and for people of colour to look at a portrait of themselves.”

A portrait doesn’t have to be photorealistic

At least according to Mr Ayres, who says photorealism doesn’t necessarily make for a good portrait, but capturing the ‘spirit’ of the subject is absolutely crucial.

Look at the winner of the 2017 Archibald Prize. Or Hans Holbein the Younger’s famous portrait of Henry VIII for example.

“One feels that if there were actually a man walking around who looked exactly like that he would look very, very odd,” Mr Ayres said.

“But still you have that incredible sense of this grandeur of the King from that portrait.”

He said that a portrait artist’s role was to deliver their interpretation of the subject.

“They (artists) experience, they take in, they process and then with their artistic genius out the other side comes for instance, a Picasso version of Michelle Obama,” Mr Ayres said.

“And Picasso’s version of Michelle Obama probably isn’t going to look exactly like Michelle Obama. But its going to be the most amazing capture of her spirit.

“To my mind I think that painting (Sherald’s portrait) hasn’t worked for me.

“But of course that’s another wonderful thing isn’t it? That art is wonderfully subjective for all of us.”

ABC/Reuters

Topics: visual-art, arts-and-entertainment, human-interest, painting, united-states

First posted February 13, 2018 12:25:59

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National Portrait Gallery unveils Obama portraits

Portraits depicting former US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington on Monday.

Barack Obama’s portrait was painted by New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley, who is known for his large-scale, old-master style paintings of African Americans. Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald was commissioned to paint Michelle’s portrait.

Sherald and Wiley are the first black artists to be commissioned by the Smithsonian to paint a president or first lady. Prior to their portraits, only one other African-American artist had ever painted a presidential portrait.

Read moreBarack Obama’s record is a legacy under threat

Symbolic flowers in Obama portrait

In his life-sized portrait, Obama is portrayed seated on a wooden chair, surrounded by lush greenery dotted with bursts of flowers.

The flowers symbolize important influences in the former president’s life: jasmine for his home state of Hawaii, African blue lilies for his late father, and chrysanthemums for Chicago, the city where he kick-started his political career.

“I tried to negotiate less gray hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked,” Obama joked at the ceremony. “I tried to negotiate smaller ears — struck out on that as well.”

He said it was a “joy” to work with Wiley and described the artist’s work as taking ordinary people and lifting them up by painting them in grandiose settings.

“In my small way I believe that is what politics should be about,” Obama said. “Not simply celebrating the high and the mighty.”

Read moreDream team Barack and Michelle Obama seal landmark book deal

Former First Lady Michelle Obama's official portrait at the National Portrait Gallery (picture-alliance/ABACA/D. Olivier)

Michelle Obama was depicted in gray, black and white tones with pops of color

Michelle hopes portrait will inspire girls

Michelle’s portrait depicts the former first lady in tones of white, black and gray on a blue background. The only touches of color are at the bottom, in the red, yellow and pink on her gown’s hem.

The former first lady said she hopes the portrait will help inspire young girls of color in the years to come.

“They will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them, hanging on the wall of this great American institution,” she said. “I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”

Barack Obama praised Sherald for capturing the “grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I love.”

The National Portrait Gallery’s tradition of commissioning presidential portraits is relatively new, beginning with former President George H.W. Bush. The other portraits in its collection were either purchased or given as gifts.

Artist Simmie Lee Knox became the first African-American ever to be commissioned to paint a presidential portrait, when he painted former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton’s official White House portraits which are separate from those which hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

rs/kms (AP, dpa, Reuters)

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Obamas unveil unconventional portraits in Washington

WASHINGTON: Former US first couple Barack and Michelle Obama unveiled their portraits at Washington’s National Gallery Monday, two contrasting works by African American artists that shocked and delighted.

The paintings by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, were revealed at a star-studded event that is a rite of passage for most former American presidents.

The museum holds portraits of all American ex-commanders in chief, but these latest additions stand in stark contrast to the more buttoned-down approach of traditional presidential portraiture.

Both show their subjects, America’s first black presidential couple, looking cool and confident, a stark contrast to the bubbling swamp of anger and braggadocio that is political Washington today.

Wiley painted the ex-president against a signature lush botanical backdrop.

Obama, in a serious seated pose at the edge of a wooden chair, is enmeshed in a thicket of leaves and flowers that recall the tropical hues of the 44th president’s home state of Hawaii.

“How about that? That’s pretty sharp,” Obama joked, as he thanked staff and friends in attendance.

The internet quickly got busy making jokes about him being stuck in a bush.

Obama also praised Sherald for “so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I love.”

The Baltimore-based artist rendered Michelle Obama in her trademark grayscale, with only a few splashes of coral, pink and yellow, against an eggshell blue backdrop.

The resulting image makes the subject’s race almost an afterthought.

Obama’s dress, true to form for a first lady whose wardrobe was often the focus of attention, dominates the frame.

As in Sherald’s previous paintings of African American subjects, Michelle Obama appears poised and powerful as she looks down on the viewer.

Michelle expressed her joy on the portrait in an Instagram post which read, “As a young girl, even in my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined this moment. Nobody in my family has ever had a portrait – there are no portraits of the Robinsons or the Shields from the South Side of Chicago. This is all a little bit overwhelming, especially when I think about all of the young people who will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this, including so many young girls and young girls of color who don’t often see their images displayed in beautiful and iconic ways. I am so proud to help make that kind of history. But the fact is that none of this would be possible without the extraordinary artist and woman behind this portrait, Amy Sherald. Thank you, Amy – it was a joy to work with you and get to know you.”

Obama’s, whose portrait will be hung alongside those of former presidents, including the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, also shared his thoughts on Instagram where he wrote, “Today, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald became the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian. To call this experience humbling would be an understatement. Thanks to Kehinde and Amy, generations of Americans — and young people from all around the world — will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. They’ll walk out of that museum with a better sense of the America we all love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Inclusive and optimistic. And I hope they’ll walk out more empowered to go and change their worlds.

Michelle Obama’s likeness will hang at the gallery until November this year.

The official portraits of the Obamas, which will be displayed the White House, have not yet been commissioned.

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National Portrait Gallery unveils Obama portraits in Washington

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., has unveiled portraits of former U.S. president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, both painted by African-American artists personally chosen by the Obamas.

The portraits were unveiled to the public Monday at the gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian group of museums. The gallery has a complete collection of presidential portraits. A second and different set of portraits of the former first couple eventually will hang in the White House.

Barack Obama Portrait unveil Feb.12/18

Former President Barack Obama and artist Kehinde Wiley unveiled Obama’s official portrait at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Barack Obama’s portrait was painted by Kehinde Wiley, an artist best known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings of African-Americans. For Michelle Obama’s portrait, the gallery commissioned Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, first-prize winner in the Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

Michelle Obama Portrait unveil Feb.12/18

Former first lady Michelle Obama and artist Amy Sherald unveiled Michelle Obama’s official portrait. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

The former president said that sitting down for his presidential portrait was a frustrating experience.

Speaking at the painting’s unveiling ceremony, Obama said he normally hates posing — that he gets impatient and starts “looking at my watch.”

But he told the crowd that working with Wiley was “a great joy.”

Obama Portrait address Feb.12/18

Obama told the crowd gathered at the unveiling that it was a ‘great joy’ to work with artist Kehinde Wiley. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

The former president, who personally chose Wiley, said the artist listened carefully to his suggestions — and then ignored most of them. 

“He listened very thoughtfully to what I had to say before doing exactly what he always intended to do,” he said. “I tried to negotiate less grey hair but Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow it. I tried to negotiate smaller ears and struck out on that as well.”

Barack Obama said he and Wiley turned out to have much in common; both had African fathers who were largely absent from their lives and American mothers who raised them.

USA-OBAMA/PORTRAIT handsake Feb.12/18

Artist Kehinde Wiley was personally chosen by the former president. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

“I am humbled, I am honoured, I am proud,” Michelle Obama said. “Young people, particularly girls and girls of colour, in future years they will come to this place and see someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this incredible institution.”

The former president, who drew multiple laughs from the audience with his remarks, started out by praising Sherald for capturing, “the grace and beauty and charm and hotness of the woman that I love.”

Obama first lady Portrait Feb.12/18

Michelle Obama’s portrait was created by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, first-prize winner in the Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

The final product depicts Obama sitting in a straight-backed chair, leaning forward and looking serious while surrounded by greenery and flowers. Michelle Obama’s portrait, painted by Sherald, shows her in a black and white dress looking thoughtful with her hand on her chin.

The portraits will be installed officially and available for public viewing starting on Tuesday.

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8,294 people reacting

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled its commissioned portraits of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Monday. Barack Obama image, painted by artist Kehinde Wiley, shows him seated in front of an ivy backdrop, while Michelle Obama was painted by Amy Sherald in a pale blue setting. Wiley and Sherald were the first black artists commissioned to paint a presidential couple for the Smithsonian.

“Kehinde was working at a disadvantage,” the 44th U.S. president joked at the ceremony. “His subject was less becoming. Not as fly.”

“I tried to negotiate less gray hair, but Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow it,” he added. “I tried to negotiate smaller ears —  struck out on that again as well.”

Official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled Monday. (Barack by Kehinde Wiley; Michelle by Amy Sherald; images courtesy the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery)

Obama said Wiley initially wanted to portray him with “scepters” and “chifforobes” — possibly even mount him on a horse.

“I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon,” he said. “We’ve got to bring it down just a touch.”

Michelle Obama had nothing but praise for Sherald’s process.

“I was blown away by the boldness of Amy’s colors,” she said. “In the first few seconds of our conversation, I knew she was the one for me.”

On Twitter, reactions to the portraits quickly poured in — with a mixture of admiration and mockery.

Obama, who has been critical of some of President Trump’s policies and comments, did not mention his successor in his speech — though he seemed to make a veiled reference to the current scandal engulfing the White House.

“We miss you guys,” Obama said, turning to some of his former aides in attendance. “We miss the way those who worked with us on this incredible journey carried yourselves.”

The Obama portraits unveiled Monday won’t be displayed in the White House — they will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery, home to the only other complete collection of presidential portraits.

Another portrait of President Obama will eventually be unveiled at the White House, though likely not for a few years. President George W. Bush had his official White House portrait unveiling in May 2012 — late in President Obama’s first term.

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8,261 people reacting

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled its commissioned portraits of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Monday. Barack Obama image, painted by artist Kehinde Wiley, shows him seated in front of an ivy backdrop, while Michelle Obama was painted by Amy Sherald in a pale blue setting. Wiley and Sherald were the first black artists commissioned to paint a presidential couple for the Smithsonian.

“Kehinde was working at a disadvantage,” the 44th U.S. president joked at the ceremony. “His subject was less becoming. Not as fly.”

“I tried to negotiate less gray hair, but Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow it,” he added. “I tried to negotiate smaller ears —  struck out on that again as well.”

Official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled Monday. (Barack by Kehinde Wiley; Michelle by Amy Sherald; images courtesy the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery)

Obama said Wiley initially wanted to portray him with “scepters” and “chifforobes” — possibly even mount him on a horse.

“I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon,” he said. “We’ve got to bring it down just a touch.”

Michelle Obama had nothing but praise for Sherald’s process.

“I was blown away by the boldness of Amy’s colors,” she said. “In the first few seconds of our conversation, I knew she was the one for me.”

On Twitter, reactions to the portraits quickly poured in — with a mixture of admiration and mockery.

Obama, who has been critical of some of President Trump’s policies and comments, did not mention his successor in his speech — though he seemed to make a veiled reference to the current scandal engulfing the White House.

“We miss you guys,” Obama said, turning to some of his former aides in attendance. “We miss the way those who worked with us on this incredible journey carried yourselves.”

The Obama portraits unveiled Monday won’t be displayed in the White House — they will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery, home to the only other complete collection of presidential portraits.

Another portrait of President Obama will eventually be unveiled at the White House, though likely not for a few years. President George W. Bush had his official White House portrait unveiling in May 2012 — late in President Obama’s first term.

Read more from Yahoo News:

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