Portrait artist Kehinde Wiley is quickly becoming an international sensation. Wiley’s heroic depictions of people of color have earned him a reputation as being one of the best protest artists of our time. His work is so breathtaking that it’s even been featured on the hit television series Empire.
Wiley’s inspiration comes from a childhood strewn with poverty, violence, gang activity, and racial discrimination. As an African American male growing up in South Central Los Angeles during the late 80’s, Wiley struggled to cope with the pressures of his environment. But if there’s one person to thank for his current success, Wiley says that it would be his mother.
“I was fortunate because my mother was very much focused on getting me, my twin brother, and other siblings out of the hood. On weekends I would go to art classes at a conservatory. After school, we were on lockdown. It was something I hated, obviously, but in the end it was a lifesaver,” Wiley stated.
But it took a while before Wiley found his niche as a protest artist. As a child, he focused solely on the fundamentals of art, such as colors, shadows, form, and space.
It wasn’t until much later, at Yale University, when he began exploring issues of identity, race, gender, and sexuality. Painting quickly became a form of activism for him, and he began to use his art form to make socio-political statements.
But over the years, his work evolved to encompass much more than just the socio-political dynamics here within the U.S. Wiley has a collection known as The World Stage where he travels to third world countries and paints portraits of everyday people on the streets. Places he’s traveled to include Brazil, China, Jamaica, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka.
Art enthusiasts should keep an eye on Kehinde Wiley, because he’s gaining traction fast. He’s already had his work displayed at high-end museums all across the U.S. Don’t be surprised if he becomes the next Picasso.