BLACK ARTISTS, BLACK MODELS: A Selling ExhibitionLondon
Triple Portrait of Charles II, 2008
One of the leading American artists of the 2000s, Kehinde Wiley is renowned for his ingenious reworking of the tradition and conventions of European portraiture. Across history, the portrait has been tied to the representation of power, and in the European courtly context, artists and their patrons developed an extensive lexicon of postures, poses, gestures, and facial expressions as part of a refined symbolic language of dominance and status. This language, woven into all aspects of a portrait, described the sitter’s influence and power, virtue and character, profession and position. In his consideration of portrait traditions, Wiley was especially drawn to the magnificent royal and aristocratic portraits of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Wiley began his first series of portraits in the early 2000s during a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He set out to photograph and recast assertive and self-empowered young men from the neighbourhood in the style and manner of traditional history painting. Since then he has also painted rap and sports stars but for the most part his attention has focused on ordinary men of colour in their everyday clothes. Trained at Yale in the 1990s, Wiley was steeped in the discussions concerning identity politics during this decade and he brings his personal insights and theoretical studies to his practice.
Wiley’s portraits are highly stylized and staged, and draw attention to the dialectic between a history of elite representation and the portrait as a statement of power and the individual’s sense of empowerment. The Triple Portrait of Charles II comprises three adjacent portraits, offering multiple views, both literally and figuratively, of one subject. It takes its inspiration from a portrait of Charles I, King of England. The original by Anthony van Dyck was painted around 1636 so that a sculptor could create a three-dimensional likeness of the king's image. Centuries later, Wiley’s interpretation adds multiple conceptual dimensions to Van Dyck’s renowned original image, reconceptualising and reembodying the notion of a man who believes in his divine right to rule.
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