Kehinde Wiley - Under the Influence New York Friday, September 23, 2011 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, Roberts & Tilton, Kehinde Wiley: Columbus, July 3 - July 8, 2006. This exhibition later traveled to Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, September 8, 2006 - January 7, 2007

  • Catalogue Essay

    This is something that, as artists, we constantly deal with - throwing away the past, slaying the father, and creating the new. –Kehinde Wiley

    (Kehinde Wiley in conversation with M.I.A. in “Kehinde Wiley Paints the World Stage,” Interview Magazine, 2010)

    Kehinde Wiley has resolutely positioned himself within the historical tradition of portrait painting. As a contemporary descendant of a long line of portraitists including Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian, Ingres and others, Wiley engages with the pictures of the Old Masters through his reinterpretation of the classical tradition. In his portraits, Wiley replaces the original subjects with young African American men in contemporary garb of sweatshirts, caps, jeans, and t-shirts. The subjects, men recruited from primarily black urban areas, such as Harlem 125th Street and South Central, are photo-realistically portrayed as men of great power and nobility. By placing his subjects in such precise historical poses, those that embody the conventions of wealth, prestige, and grandeur, Wiley is enabling an unprecedented exploration of African American identity within the framework of historical portraiture. Wiley overturns the stereotypical representations of African American men by applying the conventions of historically white nobility to the modern urban African American man in his masterfully executed large-scale paintings. With such strength, vivacity, boldness, and attention to detail, all paradigmatic of Wiley’s work, he juxtaposes these two realms, calling for a new interpretation of black masculinity and identity.

    Each portrait he creates is titled to pay homage to a historical or classical subject that was frequently rendered by many of the Old Masters. The present lot honors Saint Sebastian, a Christian saint and martyr who was ordered to be bound to a stake and tortured as a result of religious persecution; however, miraculously the arrows did not kill him and he was rescued and healed by Saint Irene of Rome. Sebastian was also invoked as a defense against the black plague. As a protector of plague victims, Sebastian consequently occupied a very important place in the medieval mentality and was therefore one of the most frequently depicted saints by late Gothic and Renaissance artists, especially in the period after the Black Death. Botticelli, Perugino, Titian, Bellini, Reni, Magenta, and El Greco are a few of the many Masters who have
    chosen Saint Sebastian as the subject of their work. He is commonly depicted tied to a stake with open wounds from arrows and is a symbol of not only martyrdom and faithfulness but also of physical endurance. Accordingly, Saint Sebastian has more commonly become known as the patron saint of athletes.

    In the present lot, Wiley chooses to examine physical excellence. By removing the usual background detail such as that of a landscape or a public forum, Wiley is highlighting and forcing our attention to the subject’s physical body and musculature. Furthermore, instead of depicting the body pierced with arrows and weakened by pain as it is traditionally shown in portraits of Saint Sebastian, we see the body alternatively penetrated by ink in tattoos. Wiley uses this type of penetration as a tool to highlight further the physical detail of the muscle and strength of the subject’s body. Wiley, by choosing Saint Sebastian as his subject, illustrates the athletic prowess of the contemporary African American man. Wiley’s paintings fuse history and style in a unique and modern manner: the artist describes his approach as “interrogating the notion of the master painter, at once critical and complicit.” Through his interrogation of traditional portraiture, Wiley blurs the boundaries between historical and contemporary modes of representation, as well as introduces a new lens through which to view contemporary culture and African American men.


St. Sebastian II (Columbus)

Oil and enamel on canvas, in artist's frame.
Overall dimensions 110 x 86 in. (279.4 x 218.4 cm)
Signed and dated "Kehinde Wiley '06" on the reverse.

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $122,500

Under the Influence

23 September 2011
New York