With his Obama portrait, Wiley moves away from a literal reimagining of a specific painting. Obama’s chair bears a certain resemblance to the chair in Gilbert Stuart’s iconic portrait of George Washington, as Holland Cotter pointed out at the New York Times, and his hunched-over, thoughtful pose echoes the lines of Rodin’s Thinker. But the forceful, engaged expression is specific to Obama, and so is the iconography around him (the blue flowers are for Kenya, the jasmine for Hawaii, and the chrysanthemums for Chicago, per Cotter). It has the aesthetic effect of a baroque portrait, but all the signifiers are vital and original.
They’re also as much about Wiley as they are Obama. The vines and flowers behind Obama represent his background, but they’re also characteristic of Wiley’s work, which tends to feature a forcefully posing human subject in front of an organic...
obamanational portrait gallerychairleavespresidentus presidentbarack obama