The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery announced today that Barack and Michelle Obama have chosen the artists who will paint their official portraits. According to the National Portrait Gallery’s website, the former President will be painted by Kehinde Wiley, while the former First Lady has chosen to work with Amy Sherald.
Both artists are known mainly for their work painting African-American subjects with colorful backgrounds. The New York-based Wiley tends to paint young Black men in street fashion stylized in the vein of the Old Masters, while Baltimore-based Sherald paints both Black men and women in grey scale. Wiley’s past subjects include the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Ice T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Michael Jackson, earning him a reputation as the “hip-hop portraitist.” Sherald won a National Portrait Gallery portrait prize last year, and has a portrait in the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture titled “Grand Dame Queenie.”
In a statement on the Gallery’s site, National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet said, “The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former President and First Lady. Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”
The Obamas’ portraits — to be unveiled in early 2018 — are the first Presidential portraits to be created by Black artists since the Gallery started commissioning portraits in 1994, though the White House did commission, Simmie Knox, a Black artist from Alabama, to paint the Clintons in 2000.