Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s official White House portraits were revealed today. The two paintings are different in style, but both are iconic. Barack said that Michelle’s portrait captured her “hotness”.
The Obama’s portraits are the first presidential portraits that are painted by black artists. The Obamas were the first black presidential family and they solidified their legacy by also having their portraits be painted by black artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.
“I am thinking about all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up, and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall,” Michelle said at the portrait unveiling.
The Obama’s portraits, which will be displayed at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery, were a hit. Twitter was filled with accolades for the portraits and, of course, a few memes.
Kehinde Wiley painted Barack and Amy Sherald painted Michelle’s portrait. Wiley is a New York artist who combines Old Master paintings with contemporary components. He is known for painting black people with bright, often floral, backgrounds.
Most classical paintings are of white people, so he takes that same classical Old Master style and creates a story about black people that have been ignored in classical portraits. Obama said that Wiley wanted to originally paint him on a horse.
Amy Sherald is a Baltimore based artist who only paints African-Americans. Her paintings focus on race and identity of African-American’s. She paints her skin tones in greyscale and the background is usually a solid color.
Her greyscale paintings visually break the stereotypes connecting skin color to racial stereotypes. Wiley painted Michelle in the same style and included Mondrian squares and patchwork details on her dress to pay homage to rural black communities.
Both portraits are beautiful and groundbreaking in their own ways.