New York-based visual artist Kehinde Wiley was hand-picked by the 44th President of the United States to paint Barack Obama's official presidential portrait for the Smithsonian. Various media outlets, including Billboard and Rolling Stone, shared the story.
For an in-person look at the artist's earlier work, all are encouraged to visit the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake Street. Wiley's "Easter Realness #2," a jewel in the library's permanent art collection, was purchased in 2004 from the Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago, and now lives on the library's third floor.
Framed in gilded gold, the painting’s vivid colors evoke the candy-colored dresses and suits that might be worn to an Easter mass. The men in Wiley’s painting, however, wear casual urban clothing—lug-soled boots, hooded sweatshirts, and baggy jeans—and seem to float in a background of robin’s-egg blue.
Wiley, whose paintings have been featured on the Fox drama Empire, and who was one of seven artists to receive a 2015 U.S. State Department Medal of Arts, blurs the line between traditional and modern in his work, borrowing from Old Master paintings, hip-hop, French rococo, and West African textile design.
According to Wiley’s website, his "signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on specific paintings by Old Masters, replacing the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects, drawing attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives."
"The library has assembled a collection of art to engage our multicultural community with works that are challenging, intriguing, and enduring," said Jim Madigan, library deputy director. "The Wiley piece most definitely meets that criteria," he added.