"I loved when I walked into LACMA as a kid and seeing Kerry James Marshall’s grand barbershop painting. But it was thrown into very sharp relief when thinking about the absence of other black images in that museum. There was something absolutely heroic and fascinating about being able to feel a certain relationship to the institution and the fact that these people happen to look like me on some level."
Much of my teenage years were spent listening to Little Kim and Biggie in my sister's bedroom whilst doing homework. Okay I also listened to a bunch of other artists in a range of genres but hip hop was definitely a part of my life and my youth.
It's a part that seems very alien to the world I sometimes flutter through at private views and opening evenings. One where the average attendee wouldn't be able to recite the epic 10 Rap Commandments. That's why when I saw the work of Kendle Whiley I would never forget it.
His work was boisterous and loud whilst remaining detailed, considered and with a clarity that spoke of art history and its contemporary lack of diverse representation. It was like a 20th century painting of a gang life with a James Brown I'm black and I'm proud theme tune running through the brush strokes on the canvas. Who were these young black men standing in front of decadent prints of gold, riding horses and wearing crowns...with base ball T-shirts of course!
Was this for real?
Kendle Wiley has become one of America's leading artists through his reworking of the grand portraiture traditions.
Art's relationship with portraiture is well established, with the portrait being a symbol representing power. The visual language which grew out of early European courts and churches was one which established a complex series of postures, poses and symbols. These elements would be woven together in such a way to tell a story of the subjects position, influence, social standing and ultimate power.
Wiley calls upon these foundational references, and uses his canvas to re-empower the black men and women from his neighbourhood, empowering them through this reframing. In this way Wiley clever utilises the portrait as a symbol of power and positions it to a source or empowerment.