Finding Inspiration in Portrait Painter Kehinde Wiley

Until recently, I never really noticed the official portraits of the president’s of the United States of America before. Did you know that former President Richard Nixon’s portrait was painted by Norman Rockwell? That’s actually pretty comical. You might recognize the name of painter, Chuck Close, who did the scary pixelated portrait of former President Bill Clinton.

FDR

Douglas Chandor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1945). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

And my favorite is the portrait of FDR, painted by Douglas Chandor. I like all the hands, the pencil drawing in the corner, the simple background, the rich depth of color, and how the suit was painted.

Portrait Painter Kehinde Wiley

The most recent presidential portrait of former President Barack Obama was painted by the talented Kehinde Wiley. I read an article on variety.com that said the background is made of foliage representing his Chicagoan, Hawaiian, and Kenyan roots. This colorful 7′ tall portrait made me curious about the artist.

obama

Kehinde Wiley, Barack Obama (2018). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

A Combo of High Renaissance, late French Rococo, and the 19th century

I looked him up and discovered some really impressive artwork. His skill shows that he has a lot of training. He often recreates artwork from historical master painters, and updates them according to the statements he wants to make. I like his version of Jacques-Louis David’s painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

acques_Louis_David nap on alps

Jacques-Louis David’s version

He used the same composition as the original but with a few changes. In a detail, you can see his humor represented through little sperm swimming around in the background. I love the clothes his random and anonymous subject is wearing. And the gold frame is so impressive. I would hang that in my house. 

While his statements are interesting, thought provoking, powerful, and contribute to the final look of his art; I’m really attracted to the visual part of his paintings. Just stare at the two paintings and study them for a while. 

framed wiley painting

Kehinde Wiley, Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps, 2005, oil paint on canvas, 274.3 x 274.3 cm (108 x 108 in) (Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York) © Kehinde Wiley

His work is intricate, bold, strikingly colorful, powerful, and beautiful. He’s definitely a contemporary artist worth studying. He shows you how to be inspired by other artists and also how to make it your own. He started making strong statements through his artwork while studying at Yale. And he gets to go down in history as a portrait painter for an American President. Check out his confident self portrait of him in his studio at his website.

Controversy

As always in art and anything really, controversy follows Wiley’s portrait of the former President. I think that’s what makes art great though; it stirs up conversation and ideas.

What do you think about Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Mr. Obama? The former President seemed to like it, and was his usual joking self poking fun at his ears and gray hair, while complimenting the integrity of the painter. 

How about that? Pretty sharp. – President Obama, upon viewing his portrait

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Mad Magazine and a Flemish Artist Named Bruegel the Elder

What Me Worry

mad mag-2

One of my favorite things to read growing up was Mad Magazine. I loved it because it was sarcastic and every page was jam packed with so many things to look at. I’d do my first read through and then I’d go back and meticulously look at all the details. I managed to get years of enjoyment from those magazines.

In college I was in an art history class focusing on the Renaissance period. I loved classes taught by this particular professor. She loved art and she lived in Italy and various other places where she studied art up close. She gave the class an assignment where we were given a partner and an artist and we had to prepare a lecture to share with the class.

mad mag-1-2

Getting Mooned

A Great Flemish Artist

I was assigned Pieter Bruegel the Elder. My first thought was this guy could have painted for Mad Mag. His paintings are full of crazy behavior, everyday life, tons of details, and a large depth of field. In his painting below, Netherlandish Proverb, you can see all kinds of crazy behavior and someone sticking their butt out the window, just like on the Mad cover.

netherlandish proverb

Getting Mooned from the window at top right portion of painting

It’s 39 degrees outside and overcast and my dog is expressing her primal need to hunt. It’s definitely feeling like winter. So, I thought I’d take a look at a Bruegel painting that’s so cold it will have me reaching for another blanket.

Hunters in the Snow 1565 

A wealthy tax collector named Niclaes Jonghelinch commissioned Bruegel to paint a landscape series of seasons of the year. You can see up close details of this painting and watch a short video about it at this website.

 

1. First, I notice the broken sign. Not a problem at the moment, but that thing could fall and some unlucky person is gonna have a pretty bad headache. Better get that fixed.

2. Next I notice the warmth from the fire and the hunched over positions of the people. They look so cold. The hunters and dogs in the foreground are all hunched over too. It doesn’t even look like they got very much on their hunt.

3. Bruegel did a good job of creating a composition that slowly leads the viewer around the image. My eyes go from the hunters down the slope, past the plant, and down to the little scene at the bottom right corner. I can barely see the tiny birds underneath the bridge where that person is carrying something across it. You can see a few more people doing their daily things.

4. We’ve pretty much just seen peasants working so far which is very common in Bruegel’s artwork. Right here we’ve got funner activities of people skating and playing.

5. The mountain peaks are my favorite part. This scene isn’t an exact replication of any real Flemish landscape. Bruegel was inspired by the Alps. I’m personally reminded of the famous Vasquez Rocks in Southern California.

6. The sky is so overcast that you don’t actually see any shadows being cast. At first I thought that there was light shining on the tree limbs, but I guess that’s actually snow. The snow pops off of the tree limbs really well and makes me notice the birds again.

7 and 8. I spend some time looking at the distant background and noticing all of the details that I can see.

1200px-Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Hunters_in_the_Snow_(Winter)_-_Google_Art_Project

A look without the numbers

Well, I’m tired of being cold and frankly, I’m tired of staring at the details in this painting. Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a great painter and we can learn a lot and be entertained from studying his work . I hope you enjoyed his winter themed painting as much as I did.

 

A Leonardo da Vinci Painting with an Illustrious and Deceptive History Re-Surfaces

new salvator mundi

I love how the art world has a history filled with intrigue, mystery, and conspiracy. I heard on the news this morning about an unquestionable and unexpected 21st century discovery of a finished Leonardo da Vinci painting. My ears perked as I was pulled away from my Clash of Clans game. The journalists were very excited about how much money it will be going for at the auction, and how much the painting reminded them of the Mona Lisa.

I can see right away that technically the painting has the luminescent quality of Leonardo’s work, especially in the careful detail of the curls in the hair. Notice the hair in this detail of the angel from Verrocchio’s, The Baptism of Christ, which was painted by Leonardo da Vinci.angel hair da vinci

When I first laid eyes on the Salvator Mundi painting I didn’t think of the Mona Lisa. I saw differences in the background, in the placement and the position of the figure, and in the symbolism of the hands. Also notice the absence of the cleft chin in the Mona Lisa painting.

Instead, I thought of Albrecht Durer’s most famous Self Portrait from 1500 where he expressed his divine creative inspiration by painting himself in the reminiscent style of Christ.

Here we have many similarities with the background, with the straightforward positioning of the figure’s body and with the positioning of the hands. You can also see that both figures seem to have a cleft chin. (The beard on Durer does make it a little bit hard to tell.)

The experts aren’t 100% sure when the painting was done, but they have narrowed it down to around 1490 – 1500. The experts are however confident that this painting is an authentic Leonardo da Vinci. It first resurfaced in 2005 disguised as a copy. Over the span of 500 years it had disappeared, had been damaged, had been painted over . . . and at the same time, had been remarkably preserved in some areas like in the curls and the hands.

I hope you check out this website to learn more about the interesting history, and the unusually unanimous authentication of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi painting. I love art . . . it never fails to amaze me.

While very different from Leonardo’s version, Albrecht Durer also painted a Salvator Mundi portrait. It was unfinished and kinda creepy looking.

AD salvator mundi

Creepy Goya Artwork Perfect for Halloween

Before I turned 1 my dad introduced me to scary video games like Castlevania and DOOM and scary movies like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. Been hooked ever since.

I love scary stuff all year long but I always feel extra creeped out around Halloween. Well, I was driving home today when I saw an 18 wheeler that had the word “Chronos” written on it. I immediately thought about the Francisco de Goya y Lucientes painting, Chronos Devouring One of His Children. I haven’t looked at that painting in years, so I dug out my very heavy art book and took a look.

chronos devouring one of his children

Also named Saturn Devouring One of His Children

Goya painted this in 1820-1822 during the Romanticism period. I remember thinking that period would actually be romantic but it wasn’t. Instead you get a bunch of creepy and scary artwork.

Last night, I was watching Rocky V with my friend (who’s 13) and when Adrienne said she wanted her son to use his mind, not his fists, my friend said he didn’t understand how you’d fight with your mind. Well, he’s got some learning to do because our minds are the most fascinating and mysterious and most powerful parts of our body.

It’s my vivid imagination that usually scares me the most. And the creepy and scary things the human mind can think up is something that a lot of artists were trying to depict during the Romanticism period.   

chronos close up

Close up

I like the bright red blood pouring onto his hands which are clenched so tightly around the miniature body of one of his children that he must have broken the bones. His long hair and that crazy desperate look in his eyes sends chills down my spine. Even the color of his skin and the way Goya positioned the titan god’s body makes me feel sick.

Apparently, Goya originally painted 14 paintings known as the “black paintings” directly onto his walls in his Madrid home. That would be sooo scary to have this “dad” staring at you as you go get a drink of water . . . or gosh . . . a late night snack.

los caprichos

Another scary piece by Goya that’s perfect for Halloween is Los Caprichos, plate 3, from his aquatint etchings series. In this etching, The Boogeyman is Coming, Goya depicts an irrational and common fear which was created by parents and society to scare children into behaving.

I was never afraid of the boogeyman, but I knew people who were. After staring at this etching for a while and contemplating the fear I do start to get a little scared. Goya’s use of dark and light go really well with the terrified looks on their faces. And I can’t even see the Boogeyman’s face. The unknown is always scary.

My imagination has no trouble running away from me. Especially as I sit here in the dark on Halloween night while the rain beats on the roof.

I hope you enjoyed looking at Goya’s creepy artwork. I know I did. Have a Happy and Scary Halloween.