Presidential portraits unveiled today
Today is one of those days where we see, if you'll pardon the phrase, art imitating life!
The portraits of the Obamas were unveiled this morning and both pieces are as standout as the couple themselves. Just think back to nine years ago when Barack Obama was first elected to office and the electrified excitement that energized the country and you will have an idea of the impact and strength of these paintings.
In typical Obama fashion, both the former president and first lady chose less conventional artists than those typically selected for this daunting task. These artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald are stylized painters who are less restrained by realism.
Wiley’s depiction of Barack Obama reveals a tough man sitting confidently on the edge of his seat with a pensive expression in a vibrant sea of greenery and flowers. It's almost as if Obama is saying that we haven't lost the Garden of Eden just yet. There's still time, there's still hope. It's a much needed message, not only because of fears due to climate change but also because of today's polluted political environment. The feelings the painting evokes are similar to those emotions felt in real life when Obama was first elected. The viewer is jolted awake by this portrait. It is dynamic and powerful work that stands out from any other presidential likeness created before it. The difference in style is entirely keeping with the difference the man made. He was a change agent so naturally his portrait would also represent a departure. It makes us think of presidential art, and presidents, in a whole new way.
In an altogether similar and yet strikingly unique approach, Sherald’s painting of Michelle Obama provides an equally potent punch. The flat colorful background devoid of any elements enables the painted image of Mrs. Obama to stand out in an impactful manner – much like the tall and elegant woman herself when she enters a room. The dress she wears is American yet evocative of African colors and patterns. Its echoes are unforgettable as it harkens back to a tortured and defeated past while somehow presenting an empowered present. That is the magic of the woman as well as the painting. Her posture is surprising in the sense that she is able to radiate engagement and compassion alongside defiance.
We live in interesting times. The Obamas have been out of the White House for more than a year but their charisma, passion and philosophies are still quite current in the nation. , The two artists selected to preserve their souls in art for future generations have done a service for all Americans, even those who disagree with the Obamas. Like them or not they represent a pivotal time in our history. Thank goodness they had the wisdom to choose artists who could reveal them in all their complexity.
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