Kehinde Wiley – A Racist Intervention

Wiley describes what he does as an “intervention.”

“By and large,” he says, “most of the work that we see in the great museums throughout the world are populated with people who don’t happen to look like me.

How many black men and women does Kehinde reach with his messages, that some title ‘Propaganda’? As I type, the cover-up of spousal abuse is being discussed on CNN.

Here is an excellent article on physical abuse amongst black partners. As a historian and genealogist, I can tell you white people are extremely violent, to outsiders, and members of their family. Beheadings were common.

Slaves did very little fighting during the Civil war, as planned. White Brother fought White Brother to free Black Slaves. To depict powerless black men riding roughshod through the Art World, as if this was their history, is more bullshit. When Marilyn said white Union soldiers fought for selfish reasons, I knew she was being tricked into the Black Lives Matter movement by this new black woman friend, who didn’t like me. I was not feeling the proper guilt and shame. Three of my grandfathers were Forty-Eighters who fought to free the Slavs of Europe.

Check out the raven wallpaper in back of the real Black Trickster who will do anything to stay out of jail and keep his fat money. How many young blacks are carrying a piece, many of them pimps, and drug dealers who kill their brothers for money? Now that Wiley is at the center of much Political attention, let’s see him play with a read deck of cards.

Thomas Jefferson sent my great grandfather to Tripoli to free White American Slaves taken prisoner by another Caliphate, like the one that led ISIS. My friends great grandfather, betrayed Napoleon.

Another grandfather, and his brother, fought with ‘The Swamp Fox’ who some historians suggest was gay, and was in love with his black slave, Oscar. Three generations of Rosamond’s took his name. My grandfather, Frank (Francis) Rosamond was one. Francis is in Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor’s family tree. Note the tall man on the right with no shoes. This is a scout. Could be my kin.

My real concern is radical black are going to help the Democrats lose elections, again.

A landmark investigation from Russian news outlet RBC uncovered a Kremlin-sponsored scheme that used Facebook to recruit black activists in the US as part of Russia’s election interference campaign, reportedly paying them to organize Black Lives Matter rallies, self-defense classes and produce content for Russian-owned sites decrying police brutality. Contacted by Buzzfeed News, the activists had no idea they were part of any Russian plot, recalling odd, but not alarming, phone calls with a man with an “African” accent. Racial division, subsequent reports have uncovered, was key to Russia’s interference campaign.

Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, and his wife Janay made statements to the news media May 5, 2014, at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Md, regarding his assault charge for knocking her unconscious in a New Jersey casino. On Monday, Sept. 9, 2014, Rice was let go from the Baltimore Ravens after a video surfaced from TMZ showing the incident. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/MCT via Getty Images)

Wiley’s painted figures are most often swallowed up by his sumptuous textile backdrops that creep meanderingly into the foreground. The serpentine vines and decorative flourishes usher Wiley’s typical human subjects ― whom he plucks from sidewalks and shopping malls ― out of their previous existences into the realm of paint, timeless and eternal. Over the past 15 years, Wiley’s artistic style has become immediately recognizable, if not iconic. And yet the artist believes his much of his practice remains, to a degree, misinterpreted.

So much of my work has not been fully investigated,” he said. “Many people see my early work simply as portraits of black and brown people. Really, it’s an investigation of how we see those people and how they have been perceived over time. The performance of black American identity feels very different from actually living in a black body. There’s a dissonance between inside and outside.”

The trickster, like Goya, alternates methodically between these notions of light and darkness. Yet the practice extends beyond the metaphorical and into all too real life when black artists navigate the hegemonic and largely white institutions of the art world. “The trickster is an expert at code switching, at passing and posing,” Wiley said.

In African-American folklore, the trickster stands in direct relation to secrecy,” he continued. “How do you keep your home and humanity safe from the dominant culture? How do you talk about things and keep them away from the master? These were things talked about in slavery that morphed into the blues, then jazz, then hip-hop. It informs the way young people fashion their identities.”

Just as a young man hanging out at the mall performs black masculinity through his look, walk and speech, artists like Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu and Yinka Shonibare are cast in the role of “black contemporary artist” ― a role they pilot with dexterity and finesse. “It’s about being able to play inside of it and outside of the race narrative at once,” Wiley said. “It’s difficult to get right.”

Above: The Art of Kehinde Wiley

Below: Portrait of my kindred, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, by Andy Warhol, and, Rosamond family crest.

Below: The Art of Christine Rosamond Benton

Art of William Morris and Andy Warhol in show.

Mural by Garth Benton painted over the Gordon Getty

What was supposed to be a historical reconstruction project, showing the face of King Tut’s biological mother Queen Nefertiti for the first time, has turned sour, amid accusations of whitewashing.”

Wiley’s wall paper has been compared to William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite. Morris is my hero. His House of Wolfen was the inspiration for Tolkien’s epic novels. I was my sister Christine Rosamond Benton’s teacher. I introduced her to Morris and members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Christine was married to the famous muralist, Garth Benton. Now that an official portrait of President Obama, exists, I contend that Kehinde Wiley is a wanna-be Pre-Raphaelite after Rosamond. He has a art factory in Bejing, where ornamentalist painters render all his floral backgrounds. Sounds like a sweat-shop!

Wiley says he conducts an intervention when he elevates poor black people from their station in life. This was inspired by a homeless black man. This might be titled ‘Blackwashing’ the mate to ‘Whitewashing’.  I have invented other words…..Blackification’ a racial gentrification. Wiley is the most famous black artist – of all time! Is he the richest?

I think he is the Black Keane who wants to fill museums with Big Black Eyes we will never get out of our minds. People will turn their backs on blue-eyed people, and shun straights. Walter replaced Margaret; Kehinde replaced them both. He is the black Norman Rockwell.

I find many coat of arms in Wiley’s work, belonging to white families. This is a clue, because after a million years, no homosexual has gotten a man pregnant, and helped sustain a Family Tree, like my Rosy Family Tree. Wiley is spawning foundling children. He is playing (back) God touching (black) Adam’s finger. He is creating a Black Tribe of Eternally Loyal Admirers – who might kill for their Master Artist!

My father said this about my mother, his ex-wife,  born Rosemary Rosamond.

“I should have cut her head off while I had a  chance!”

Above is a painting Rosamond did of her mother holding a whie glass. Christine was the model. Perhaps Wiley can do an intervention, paint the face black, and have my sister holding her mother’s severed head – or mine!

To be continued

Jon Presco

Wiley describes what he does as an “intervention.”

By and large,” he says, “most of the work that we see in the great museums throughout the world are populated with people who don’t happen to look like me. As a child, I grew up studying and worshiping those great works of Western European painting. But I also wanted to fulfill the goal of feeling a certain personal presence in that work.”

In other words, Wiley wanted to see himself in those grand heroic portraits. And as an artist, he sees an opportunity to take those centuries-old depictions of glory, and use them to make a statement that’s very much about the present.

At its best, what art does is, it points to who we as human beings and what we as human beings value. And if Black Lives Matter, they deserve to be in paintings.”

Kehinde Wiley uses the word “we”  in regards to going beyond stereotypes that he claims make up a “national identity”. What national identity is that, the white heterosexual identity, that supposedly is inflicted with a ‘Racist Homophobic Virus’ that can be oppressed and made dormant if White People had a mind to be cured of THEIR glaring defect made visible by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis Super Race? Not having ACCEPTANCE is the magic-play word here. Some say homosexuality can be cured.

There are millions of Black Evangelicals who are opposed to homosexuality, and may never have acceptance. Perhaps there is real taste and a refined criteria at work here? Why doesn’t Wilely do a portrait of a beautiful White Gay Male with a William Morris-like background – and prove he has ACCEPTANCE, verses, a PREFERAL?

Working exclusively in portraiture, Kehinde Wiley fuses traditional formats and motifs with modern modes of representation. Selecting works from old masters like Peter Paul Rubens or Jacques-Louis David, Wiley replaces the historical figures with handsome young black men. In his related, ongoing “World Stage” series, Wiley’s heroic figures are depicted in front of colorful background patterns that make specific reference to textiles and decorative patterns of various cultures, from 19th-century Judaica paper cutouts to Martha Stewart’s interior color swatches. Wiley’s penchant for jarring juxtapositions stems from his desire to complicate notions of group identity. “How do we…go beyond the media stereotypes about national identity?” he has said. “I don’t really think about myself as a young gay black American, nor do I interface with my Brazilian or Mexican or Jewish friends that way.”

The recent attempt at reconstructing the face of the iconic beauty, Nefertiti, by basing her looks on the mummy of the Younger Lady found in KV35 has caused an enormous uproar among Egyptophiles all across the globe. They say it is an insult to the origins of the ancient queen to be shown with lighter skin. But, those involved in the project stand their ground and state that this is the true likeness of the mother of King Tutankhamun, and that the bust appeared white because of the studio lights. Not many are convinced with these responses – and the jury is still out on the former conclusion.

Kehinde Wiley and William Morris

My different art experiences are colliding this week in an unusual way. This past weekend I went and saw the exhibition Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at the Seattle Art Museum. And then, just today I taught my students about some of the designs that appear in William Morris’s wallpaper. When I got home this afternoon, I began to think about how some of William Morris’s work is referenced in a few of Kehinde Wiley’s paintings that I saw on display.

Kehinde Wiley, "St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness," 2013

Kehinde Wiley, “St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness” from “The World Stage: Jamaica series 2013

For example, the background design in Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness is clearly referencing a William Morris print of birds and irises. As someone who loves William Morris’s designs, I would have liked to have seen this references explored a little more clearly. A review of this same exhibition from last year (when it was at the Brooklyn Museum of Art) also suggested that mentioning the origins of the backgrounds in Wiley’s paintings would strengthen the show.

Kehinde Wiley, "Mrs. Siddons from the series 'An Economy of Grace,'" 2012. Oil on canvas

Kehinde Wiley, Mrs. Siddons from the series ‘An Economy of Grace,’” 2012. Oil on canvas

The reference to William Morris was most clearly pointed out to me in the portrait of Mrs. Siddons; the pattern is clearly inspired by the Blackthorn block-printed wallpaper that Morris designed in 1882.


Kehinde Wiley, “Mrs. Siddons from the series ‘An Economy of Grace,’” 2012. Oil on canvas

It seems like there are several reasons for why Kehinde Wiley chooses to reference William Morris’s designs in some of his paintings. On one hand, Wiley’s compositions and designs are trying to draw awareness to the realm of history and art history, not only with the decorative motifs but the way the figure is represented (the female figure’s position which looks away from the viewer reminds me of depictions of the penitent Magdalene by George de la Tour).

In past centuries, fine art was typically associated with white Europeans and refinement. Wiley wants to challenge the idea that fine art and statements of cultural refinement are limited to a specific race; he does this by referencing European artistic traditions in his portraits of black people. To help emphasize his point, Wiley draws inspiration from Morris’s wallpaper designs, since they are associated with taste and the high-quality production surrounding the Arts & Crafts movement. In the exhibition catalog for this show, Annie Paul explains that Wiley creates “decorative backgrounds [which are] inspired by the English designer William Morris, who wove images from botany and zoology into intricate patterns signifying taste and discrimination.”It seems like Wiley occasionally uses Morris’s designs to reference English history and colonialism, too. For example, the inclusion of a Morris print in St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness (shown above) references the past colonial presence of the English in Jamaica.

So, Kehinde Wiley’s portraits of black figures, which contain visual references to European history and European art, call for attention and help to create a new vision of contemporary black identity and presence. Holland Cotter, in reviewing a 2005 exhibition of Wiley’s work, asserted as much by saying that Wiley “is a history painter. . . . By this I mean that he creates history as much as tells it.”2

And what would William Morris think about his imagery being utilized in this way? I think that he would be quite pleased: Morris was a socialist who wanted to bring about a change in the art world and society. William Morris felt like the arts, particularly the decorative arts, “were ‘sick’ as a consequence of the split between intellectual and mechanical work that occurred during the Renaissance.”3 Perhaps in a similar vein, Kehinde Wiley seeks to bind together racial divides and “heal” stereotypical assumptions about what constitutes art and portraiture.

So when Wiley’s paintings are considered in terms of social unity, Morris’s designs are very appropriate. Art historian Caroline Arscott has analyzed Morris’s designs in relation to the social climate of his day, finding that the designs “imagine an overcoming of social contradictions in an allegory performed ‘through the twists and turns of plants.’ In this way his aesthetic stands as a powerful equivalent for the recovered wholeness of men and women, of their relations to their fellows and to nature.”4 In many ways, Wiley is also suggesting similar themes of “wholeness” by binding different cultures together within his paintings. It isn’t surprising, then, that Wiley is inspired by designs of plants which repeatedly interconnect, wind, and bind themselves to each other.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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