- Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled their official posters at the National Portraits Gallery on Monday in Washington D.C.
- Portraits created by New York-based artist Kahinde Wiley and Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald
- Wiley and Sherald the first African American commissioned by the museum for a presidential portrait
Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled their official posters at the National Portraits Gallery on Monday in Washington D.C.
President Obama’s portrait is painted by the New York-based artist Kahinde Wiley. Wiley is known for his colorful, large-scale paintings of African-Americans.
President portrait shows him seated in front of floral background where the different floral elements symbolize different parts of life of the President Obama. In the portrait Obama is sitting in a chair with elbows on his knees and leaning forward with intense expressions. Chrysanthemums narrate his Chicago connection. Jasmines symbolize Obama’s native land of Hawaii, and the African blue lilies are there to serve as a remembrance of the president’s late father.
Commenting about the picture the former president said, “Look at that, I look pretty sharp” with a broad grin. He also added, “I tried to negotiate less grey hair. I tried to negotiate smaller ears, struck out on that as well.”
While talking about his picture, the artist Kehinde Wiley said, “(It charts Obama’s) charts Obama’s “path on Earth through those plants that weave their way to the foreground.”
While talking about the process of creating the portraits President Obama mentioned about Riley’s initial ideas such as Obama riding a horse. Obama shot it down saying, “I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon. You’ve got to bring it down a touch.” And that is what Riley has done.
The Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald painted the portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. Sherald is well known for her stylized portraits of African Americans and she is also a winner of the Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.
Her portrait of Michelle Obama shows her seated and wearing a floor-length black-and-white gown from designer Michelle Smith’s label, Milly. In the portrait the first lady is sitting with chin on her arm and is directly looking at the viewer. The portrait of first lady is a signature style of Sherald. It is featured in greyscale and reminds us of photographs of African Americans taken in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Talking about her portrait Michelle Obama said, “I am humbled, I am honored, I am proud but most of all I am so incredibly grateful to all the people who came before me in this journey.” She also added “I am a little overwhelmed, to say the least. As you may have guessed, I don’t think there is anybody in my family who has ever had a portrait done, let alone a portrait that will be hanging in the National Gallery — at least as far as I know, Mom. But all those folks who helped me be here today, they are with us physically and they are with us in spirit.”
“I’m also thinking of all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who … will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”
The President Obama also thanked Sherald for her work while adding a touch of humor, “so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman I love.”
Like the presidency honored through their paintings, the two artists have made a historic achievement of becoming the first African American painters to receive a presidential portrait commission from the museum.
Wiley said in his speech, “The ability to be the first African-American painter to paint the first African-American president of the United States is absolutely overwhelming. It doesn’t get any better than that. I was humbled by this invitation but I was also inspired by Barack Obama’s personal story.”
While Sharald said, “You exist in our minds and our hearts in the way that we do because we can see ourselves in you.”
The event was rather small and was attended by small gathering of people including celebrities from Shonda Rimes to Steven Spielberg, former administration officials from Josh Earnest to Eric Holder, and members of the media.
The painting will be open for viewing for general public from Tuesday.