Acclaimed International Artist Kehinde Wiley, was mostly known for his highly texturized portraits of everyday African American men, but just two years back he began featuring African American women in his work. Wiley intertwines historical and often Victorian poses and costumes with the “every day” Black women seen walking down the street. In fact, that’s where he pulled many of his models from. By walking the streets of Harlem to Haiti and getting women to be featured in his work that look like the women in our families.
PBS featured a documentary of Wiley’s work this September, “Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace” featuring his creative process, selection of women, and partnership with Givenchy on making the gowns in his portrait series. Wiley, the son of a Nigerian father and African American mother, has always used his work to celebrate Black people in portrait scenes. In an interview with the Huffington Post the creative painter spoke on the series and more.
On what inspired “Economy of Grace:”
The reason why I am painting women now is in order to come to terms with depictions of gender and the way it is featured art historically–a means to broaden the conversation. Any consideration of male power in painting naturally includes the presence of women within that dialogue. “An Economy of Grace” is an investigation of the presence of women in painting, but in a broader sense, it is a investigation of the negotiation of power in image-making.
On his choice of Givenchy costumes:
For this body of work I looked to 18th and 19th-century society portraits for inspiration. At that time it was common practice for nobility to commission unique clothing for portraiture. Working with a major fashion house, we’re revamping that tradition for the 21st century. I’ve always been a big fan of Givenchy and Riccardo Tisci’s work, so it was a wonderful opportunity to work with him.
How we’d describe the women featured:
Powerful yet elegant.
Check out the documentary and our favorite portraits below.