Passing/Posing (St. Monaca)

Kehinde Wiley (born 1977)
Oil on canvas, 2005

Private collection

Most portraits emphasize the unique rather than generic aspects of a subject, but Kehinde Wiley’s portraits reverse these expectations: his goal is to stress the role of the individual primarily as a type. Thus Robert Reynolds was most interesting to Wiley as a representative of the young black man who understands the “bling-bling” excesses of hip-hop.

Now New York–based, Wiley, an African American artist born in South Central Los Angeles, began his painting process by asking the subject to look at books on Italian Renaissance and baroque art and to select a pose in a historic painting that appealed to him.

Wiley photographed the sitter in that pose. By placing the sitter in a format used in venerated historical art, Wiley gave dignity and stature to this black youth (and those like him), something that may not have been available to him in his everyday life.