5 Things to Know About Kehinde Wiley, The Artist Known for Painting Rappers & Now Obama's Presidential Portrait

Kehinde Wiley
Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Sotheby's

'St. Francis' (centre) by Kehinde Wiley goes on view at Sotheby's as part of 'Shake it Up': Works from the Mario Testino Collection on Sept. 8, 2017 in London.

The New York-based visual artist hand-picked by Barack Obama to paint his official presidential portrait for the Smithsonian is no newcomer to creating portraits of esteemed black figures, painting “portraitures” of iconic music artists like Michael Jackson, Notorious B.I.G., and LL Cool J in the past.

Kehinde Wiley has recreated classic works of art, reimagining them with a modern, urban contemporary twist. “What I choose to do is to take people who happen to look like me — black and brown people all over the world, increasingly — and to allow them to occupy that field of power,” he told CNN. Below, we discovered 5 things to know about the 40-year-old LA native.


Thank you Mr. President.

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1. He’s Yale Alumnus.

Wiley first went to art school at the tender age of just 11-years-old. He earned his BFA from the Art Institute of San Francisco in 1999 and went on to earn an MFA at Yale University in Connecticut, where he explored identity, gender and sexuality, painting as a political act, and questions of post-modernity.

2. He travels the world to capture the true essence of his subjects.

For Wiley’s The World Stage series, he casts models on the streets of different countries. Brazil, Nigeria, India and China are among places he has visited for this artistic purpose.

3. Kehinde has been chosen by Swizz Beatz to participate in his “No Commission” art fair presented by the Dean Collection x Bacardi.

Swizz Beatz’s The Dean Collection aims to champion a spirit of creativity to celebrate a community that has been and remains integral to New York’s cultural heritage. According to its website, “the exhibition highlights artists who explore hybridity and colorful exuberance in their artistic narratives.” Other artists who’ve been apart of the collective are Todd James and Ricardo Cavolo, who Swizz recently collaborated with for his BallyNo Color Boundaries” collection.

4. His work can be found in over 20 galleries around the country.

Some of which are in New York, Arizona, California, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.

5. He’s a proud member of the LGBTQ community.

Though he identifies as gay, Wiley expressed that his sexual orientation is sometimes complicated and by no means “black and white.” “I’m a gay man who has occasionally drifted,” he told the New York Times. “I am not bi. I’ve had perfectly pleasant romances with women, but they weren’t sustainable. My passion wasn’t there. I would always be looking at guys.”