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.

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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.

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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

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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. 

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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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My LOMO – Inspired Digital Photography Manifesto

I knew a photographer who loved shooting on her Holga toy camera. At the time, I wasn’t crazy about the idea of a toy camera, but her pictures always turned out really cool. A few years ago I purchased an Action Sampler.

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Action Sampler, photo from lomography.com

It takes four pictures per exposure. I carried it around for a while and shot pictures obeying The Ten Golden Rules, and the promises that are specific to the Action Sampler. I still need to finish my rolls of film and get them developed. Until that happens I have a burning desire to take the kind of low fidelity pictures you get with toy cameras.

Can LOMO be Digital?

A lot of my digital photos remind me of the pictures that you get from toy cameras. So, I’d like to work on an on – going series of pictures inspired by the LOMO – style. Both in camera and in post processing. With my DSLR and with my point and shoot. Any way that I can achieve the style is acceptable, with the goal of staying as close to true Lomography as possible. So, Let’s take a look at the 10 Golden rules.

The 10 Golden Rules of Lomography

1. Take your camera everywhere you go.

  • Not a problem. All photographers should make this a rule. The moment I leave home without it, I’ve missed picture opportunities.

2. Use it anytime, Day and Night.

  • Another easy one. Both day and night offer all kinds of different lighting and subject opportunities.

3. Lomography is not an interference in your life, but a part of your life.

  • Done. Photography is a part of my life.

4. Try to shoot from the hip.

  • A lot of toy cameras don’t have a viewfinder. So, it became popular to shoot from the hip. I do it sometimes. I also try to shoot from above, from the side, and upside down. Being open to any vantage point can produce interesting possibilities. But for Lomographic purposes, it’s gotta be from the hip.

5. Approach the objects of your Lomographic desire as closely as possible.

  • I often try to get close to my subjects. I might be able to get closer though.

6. Don’t think. (William Firebrace)

  • This one is hard. I can’t help but think. I’ve got a brain and I try to use it. But, this is a great rule to attempt to follow. If you don’t think, you just shoot, you’ll end up getting some cool surprise pictures that you wouldn’t get if you sat there thinking. Sometimes, you can think too much.

7. Be Fast.

  • Sometimes you gotta shoot fast or you’ll miss it. This world speeds by and everyone tends to rush through it. There’s a time and place for waiting for the decisive moment. Just like there’s a time and place for those quick pics.

8. You don’t have to know beforehand what you’ve captured on film.

  • This is inherent in film. You just don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve developed your film and spent time in the darkroom making test prints. You can also do this with digital. That little screen isn’t giving you an accurate view of your image anyway. Ignore the screen and the histogram and just shoot. The surprise is really fun when you’re checking out your shots later.

9.  And you don’t necessarily have to know afterwards either.

  • This is something inherent to Lomography. Often times, you’ll produce images that are abstract, blurry, out of focus, strange colors, etc. You might never know what that photo is of and that’s part of the beauty that attracts me to this type of photography.

10. Don’t worry about any rules.

  • Being a practiced photographer, some rules just get obeyed naturally. But I love the idea of letting go and just shooting. Forget rules. This ain’t Group F. 64.

Rules are Meant to be Broken

Since rule 10 says not to worry about rules, then I have the right and the responsibility to break the rules. Which means that shooting an analogue style of photography with a digital camera is a big rule breaker. I think that as long as I try to stick with the original idea of Lomography, which is basically experimental and creative, then I’ll be ok.

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Before – Through the Windshield

This picture reminds me of Lomography. I took it through the windshield of a car and I didn’t do anything to it. It’s straight from the camera. In the photo below, I adjusted the exposure and color temperature in Lightroom using the “auto” feature.

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After – Through the Windshield

I like them both and I think they qualify as LOMO – inspired Digital photos.

Have you ever shot on a toy camera, or have you ever made your own pinhole camera? Do you think that an inherently analogue style of photography can be created digitally and be taken seriously? I guess we will soon find out . . .

100 Days of Learning T-Shirt Art Project

My best friend is a grade school teacher and asked me to work on a school art project with her and her daughter. Of course, I’m always down for art. Her daughter is also an artist and we have a lot of fun making art together. We brainstormed for a couple of days and got a practice shirt out of the way, but I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

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Diamond

Finally the idea hit to use her kitten, Diamond. I recently took some pictures of her with plans to do a drawing so that was Puuuurrrr -fect. Haha, yea I went there. Based on the ideas we talked about during our brainstorming sessions, I came up with this design.

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Shirt design and sketch of Diamond

Everyone loved the idea so we got to work. We planned on using those two butterflies but they didn’t make the cut. I put my drawing of Diamond under the shirt and traced it with a pencil. Then after I added the sun I got started adding the fabric paint.

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My girl helping me out

I’ve never heard of this 100 days of learning thing, but I guess it’s something schools do when they hit 100 days in the school year. You have to use 100 things, so we glued a bunch of little diamonds.

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Diamond posing with her shirt

There’s Diamond checking out her portrait. She was upset that I made her quit messing with the shirt and look at the camera.

My friend thought about saying something along the lines of “being brighter.” So it seemed appropriate to use lyrics from Rhianna’s song, “Diamonds“: Shine Bright Like a Diamond. It’s also consistent with her personality.

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t-shirt drying

I forgot to take a picture of the finished shirt. We just added some more diamonds and the words “100 Days of Learning,” inside the sun and I wrote her name on the back. I also forgot to take a picture of the finished shirt I made for her mom. Haha, I was getting tired.

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The teacher’s shirt

I added a bunch of yellow, orange, and blue lightning bolts all around the shirt to represent all the electricity from the brain power. It still needed something else though. My friend finally came up with a really good finishing touch: At the bottom I wrote in blue paint, “Leads to a Brighter Future.”

These shirts were a lot of fun to make and I love supporting art and education.

Mad Magazine and a Flemish Artist Named Bruegel the Elder

What Me Worry

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Can Snapshots be Art? Quick Pics 13-17

These are the last 5 quick pics that I took while hanging out with Speedy. I’ve had a lot of fun with this concept and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep shooting the Speedy way, even when he’s not around. A lot of my pics were crap and I’ll be deleting them, but I think it’s safe to say that snapshots can definitely be art.

Quick Pic 13: Guy with Untied Boots

We just stopped to eat and I saw this guy with his boots untied . . . he actually looked like he wasn’t completely finished getting dressed.Wow, and up hill too. 🙃

Quick Pic 14: Lady with Bright Orange Kicks

We were sitting at a very long red light when I noticed this lady’s bright orange shoes. I’m torn . . . I kinda like this pic but I also don’t. After I tried a few things, I finally decided to turn down the saturation on everything except their shoes and purses.

Quick Pic 15: Gnarly Tree 

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I like how gnarly the branches are so I included it.

Quick Pic 16: Her Piano Keys 

We stopped at someone’s house and I wandered into this dark room where I found a piano. I shined the light on my phone and snapped a couple of quick pics. I liked this one the best and I played with the split toning in Lightroom.

Quick Pic 17: Fish Tank Dragon

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We ran into this giant Pet Sense to get a new collar for my dog, Sunny. Their selection was pretty sorry for such a huge store, so I didn’t get a collar . . . I did grab this pic in the fish area though. And I played around with the split toning with this one too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my quick pics and I’d love to know your thoughts about snapshots and their place in the art world.

Can Snapshots be Art? Quick Pics 7-12

A quick Google search says that a snapshot is an informal photograph taken quickly, typically with a small handheld camera. I enjoy shooting with my purple Panasonic DMC-SZ3 Lumix because it’s small and easy to carry anywhere I go. It’s got a Leica Lens and it allows for a wide range of control over the settings. It’s also pretty sturdy and has withstood my clumsy abuse.

Below are 6 more quick pics I took while hanging with my friend Speedy.

Quick Pic 7: View of East Texas Land +18 Vibrance

There’s really nothing spectacular about this picture but I like it. I like how blurry the foreground is and thought it would be fun to add a bunch of vibrancy and make that blue, green, and yellow really burst.

Quick Pic 8: 2 Old Cars

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I love shooting old cars. Speedy was driving fast as usual, but after staring at this pic for a while, I’m not sure I could have gotten a better shot if we stopped . . . I mean, I could have of course, but I probably would have made it too complicated.

Quick Pic 9: House with Slanty Roof, b&w

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This is one of my favorites. I’m so drawn to it. I love the lighting and the composition. It gives me a feeling of nostalgia and it triggers feelings associated with random memories that I can’t really fully remember. I also think of Miracle on 34th street . . . I guess I thought of that movie because she wanted a house. Hmm, I should watch that soon.

Quick Pic 10: Little White Sign

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Another favorite. I think Speedy was actually speeding because I barely remember taking this pic. I like odd things in odd places. Why is there a tiny little white sign all by itself out there? Maybe the words are on the other side of the sign. Oh, and those oil spots on the road add a bit of visual interest and balance. Not too bad for a quick pic. If it was hanging in a gallery it would get some attention. Sometimes it’s the simple things that spark lively conversation.

Quick Pic 11: The Surveillance

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Ahh feels good to photograph the surveillance. They’re everywhere, always watching, always focusing. I tried to create a sense of discomfort. Eh, it’s an ok quick pic. Not a fav. I had fun playing around in Lightroom though. 

Quick Pic 12: Untitled, b&w

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We had just pulled into a parking spot and we were sitting there for a minute waiting on the lady who parked right next to us. All of a sudden we heard a loud thud and slight movement. She actually hit his door with her door and left a tiny paint mark. I snapped this shot very quickly as I was walking by. 

Can Snapshots be Art? Quick Pics 1-6

At times, when I’m chillin with my friend (let’s call him Speedy), who doesn’t like to stop, I am forced to take pictures while going 70 mph down the road. One day Speedy absolutely refused to stop and I missed so many picture opportunities. I could have gotten very discouraged and frustrated . . .  but that didn’t sound like fun so I decided to challenge myself and see what kind of snapshots I can come up with.

I like to embrace the freedom and possibilities of stepping out of my comfort zone, or challenging any lingering, pre-conceived ideas about the process of making “art” especially with photography. Many artists and non – artists have asked the question: Can a snapshot really be considered art? Hmm . . . 

Quick Pic 1: Wooden Fence, B&W

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Before 

 

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After

I’ve taken many pictures on this road and something always grabs my attention. I managed to get Speedy to stop for this one, but only while he turned the car around. I’m not crazy about this quick pic, but I chose to include it because there’s just something about it.

Quick Pic 2: Shadow of a Tall Tree

I had a few minutes to shoot this one because Speedy had a quick stop to make. The sun was pretty high and casting this huge tree shadow. I didn’t like the warmer image on the left, so I tried to be inspired by cross processing, and made it a little bluer.

Quick Pic 3: Objects in Mirrors, b&w

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Before

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After

I like that baby mirror in the corner, and including the camera and photographer can be fun sometimes. Especially with that pinky up for balance purposes. I also thought it was more interesting in b&w.

Quick Pic 4: Blurry Trees

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I like the angle, the blurriness, and the way the sun is glowing. Reminds me of a picture taken on a toy camera.

Quick Pic 5: Birds on the Power Lines at the Gas Station

In one of my b&w film classes, I remember being very captivated by a guy who did a series of birds on power lines. It’s hard to remember all of his thoughts behind his photographs, but his series was in the back of my mind when I took this quick pic.   

Quick Pic 6: Xmas Light Pic the Speedy Way

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I was ruthlessly picking on Speedy by this point and taking pictures of everything as the world zoomed on by. This one reminds me of the red and blue blur . . . y’know, Clark Kent on Smallville . . . aka Superman.