Kehinde Wiley on the World Stage

Blog: 03.28.12

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 12:32 PM

Kehinde Wiley paints contemporary kings. His portraits are opulent collages that take young, urban men — many of them African-American, many of them anonymous — and turns them into heroes and surrounding them with intricate, kool-aid-bright backgrounds. Think Ice-T perched on a rearing stallion, like Napolean. The paintings recall classical portraiture on a giant scale (one piece is 25 feet long). The World Stage: Israel, an exhibition of Wiley's paintings now on view at The Jewish Museum in New York, draws on the imagery of Jewish folk and ceremonial art.

For the last several years, Wiley has been traveling the world in search of inspiration and models, pulled off the streets of China, India, Brazil, Africa, and Israel. His ongoing series The World Stage depicts young men intertwined with regional imagery and symbols of authority. He incorporates everything from local statues to native textiles. The World Stage: Israel features amateur models from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Lod posing against patterns drawn from traditional Jewish paper-cuts and embroidered silk Torah curtains.

Next to the paintings, visitors to the exhibition can see textiles and paintings from the museum's collection, picked by Wiley himself, that resonate with his work. Many of the tapestries on view are crammed with hypnotic patterns already, but in Wiley’s portraits these motifs become psychedelic, rendered in neon colors. And each painting sits in a hand-carved frame, which incorporates religious iconography — such as the hands of a Kohen (priest) and the Lion of Judah, which symbolizes blessing, power, and majesty.

In one portrait, a young man wears a rumpled t-shirt with the YouTube logo; in the background, vines from the traditional papercut, turned neon green, creep across his shoulder. The juxtaposition of virile, hip-hop inspired masculinity and highly traditional, Jewish design could be jarring. Instead, each element makes the other more compelling.

A couple years ago, Kurt Andersen visited Wiley's studio in Brooklyn. “I was very interested in finding people who had a sort of alpha-male presence, a sense of charisma and personal style," Wiley told him.

Listen to their full conversation:

 

The World Stage: Israel is on view through July 29, 2012.

 

Slideshow: Images from The World Stage: Israel

Solomon Mashasha by Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley, Image courtesy of The Jewish Museum

Solomon Mashasha, oil and gold enamel on canvas.
From the exhibition The World Stage: Israel at The Jewish Museum through July 29, 2012.

Benediter Brkou by Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley, Image courtesy of The Jewish Museum / Roberts & Tilton

Benediter Brkou, oil and gold and silver enamel on canvas.

Leviathan Zodiac by Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley, Image courtesy of The Jewish Museum / Roberts & Tilton

Detail from Leviathan Zodiac, oil and gold enamel on canvas.

Kalkidan Mashasha by Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley, Image courtesy of The Jewish Museum / Roberts & Tilton

Kalkidan Mashasha, oil and gold enamel on canvas.

This Mizrah by Israel Doy Rosenbaum is example of paper cutting from the Ukraine. The motifs are similar to the previous image.
Courtesy of The Jewish Museum

Mizrah, Israel Dov Rosenbaum, Ukraine, 1877, paint, ink, and pencil on cut-out paper.
A mizrah is used to indicate the direction of prayer and is hung in the direction of Jerusalem. Wiley used similar motifs from this papercut in the following image.

 

Alios Itzhak is on view in The Jewish Museum's exhibit The World Stage: Isarael.
Kehinde Wiley, Image courtesy of The Jewish Museum / Roberts & Tilton

Alios Itzhak, oil and gold enamel on canvas.

Courtesy of The Jewish Museum

Torah Ark Curtain and Valance, Poland/Ukraine, 1831-32, silk and velvet embroidered with silk thread and metallic foil.

Mizrah by Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley, Image courtesy of The Jewish Museum / Roberts & Tilton

Mizrah, oil and gold enamel on canvas.

Courtesy of The Jewish Museum

Mizrah, Morocco, c. 1900, ink on cut-out paper and metallic foil. 

A Torah Ark Curtain from Italy, made in the 1800s
Courtesy of The Jewish Museum

Torah Ark Curtain, Rahel Modigliani and three other women, Italy, 1833-34, net embroidered with silk thread; silk.

Mahmud Abu Razak by Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley, Image courtesy of The Jewish Museum

Mahmud Abu Razak, oil on canvas.

Erin Davis

Kurt Andersen visits with Kehinde Wiley in his Brooklyn studio.

Erin Davis

Wiley's Place Soweto (National Assembly)

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