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9 / Portraits

Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke Olivares
Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke Olivares
Artist / Origin Kehinde Wiley (American, b. 1977).
Region: North America
Date 2005
Material Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 108 in. (274 cm.), W: 108 in. (274 cm.)
Location Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL
Credit Photo courtesy of the Kehinde Wiley Studio, New York. © Kehinde Wiley

expert perspective

Kehinde WileyArtist

Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke Olivares

» Kehinde Wiley (American, b. 1977).

expert perspective

Painting—portrait painting, especially, is a type of propaganda, let’s face it. There’s a type of great collusion with regard to traditional portraiture. How will I look my best? What’s my best angle? How am I adorning myself? What’s behind me? So much of that has to do with constructing a narrative of power.

I love the old masters—that’s how I learned how to paint. I remember going to school as a kid around eleven years of age. I would spend afternoons, long afternoons, poring through these paintings, analyzing why they were painted the way that they are. I had no idea what was the deal with so many lapdogs, and jewels, and powdered wigs.

As an African American I’m obsessed with the fact that I’m in love with something that I almost feel guilty about loving. I’m messing with the old masters. What I’m basically doing is copies of those paintings, but instead of using the original figures, I’m using young African American men that I find in the streets. In order to make the paintings, I’m stopping guys who are minding their own business. And asking them to come to my studio, go through a collection of art history books, decide which is their favorite painting. We then proceed to have a photo shoot. Usually artists make all the decisions, pose this way or pose that way. I think it is important for the model to do all of the deciding. It’s, I think, about choice in that sense. I think my paintings are about the power to say, ‘This is the way that I want to be seen.’

Black men in America occupy a very interesting space. It has to do with both curiosity and revulsion by and large. Historically we have been depicted as something to be feared, but we are also the number one face of what it means to be a young American. My type of portraiture is in some ways concerned with the very political righting of wrongs. But then there are moments when I’m bored by that, which is to say, what gives me the right to preach? I’m, I’m not exploiting my subjects, I’m not changing the world, but at the same time, I’m hopelessly in love with painting.” 

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