Friday, 18 October 2013

Kehinde Wiley

October is a big month for art in London, what with Frieze and all the other fairs going on. October also happens to be Black History month and don't know whether it was happy coincidence or design, but here in London we are spoiled this month with 3 of the biggest African-American names in contemporary art having solo shows in the capital, as well as a Black British artist. I am going to escape my desk and try to catch as many shows as possible. There is something for everyone whatever your tastes, a real visual feast.

The first stop on my whirlwind gallery tour was the Kehinde Wiley, The  World Stage: Jamaica exhibition on Old Burlington St. I only discovered his work last year and have been a big fan since of his portraits of black and other indigenous people whom he culls from poorer backgrounds after a series of street castings, and captures them in poses taken from classical European paintings, redressing the balance of black people depicted in these paintings mainly being reduced to positions of servitude. The scale of Wiley's paintings and the dominant position of the models within them puts them centre-stage and ensures they have a place of importance/parity in the visual arts. This is quite important given the ongoing debate about the lack of black faces in the media and on the catwalk, and also the sad fact that sales of magazines go down when a black face is featured on the cover. Although we are in the year 2013 there is clearly still a long way to go!

What comes across is Wiley's love of, and respect for art history and in this latest series of his "World Stage" projects, he visits Jamaica and takes his models from there, (engaging with the dance-hall culture), and makes links with Britain, adapting poses from 18th and 19th century British portraiture and taking the floral background designs in some of the paintings from a selection of William Morris's textile patterns. I love the way the tendrils and floral elements from the background creep in over the figures, which is a device I used to use with my lino-cuts.

Surprisingly this is Kehinde Wiley's first UK show. I absolutely loved the work on display and was really inspired by this exhibition. Definately one to return to before it closes. Catch it if you can!

Kehinde Wiley The World Stage: Jamaica
until 16th November 2013
Stephen Friedman Gallery
11 & 25 Old Burlington St
London W1