Barrack and Michelle Obama's portraits revealed at National Portrait Gallery

Barrack and Michelle Obama's portraits revealed at National Portrait Gallery

Wiley and Sherald break boundaries as the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.

In anticipation of the portrait, Smith sent a few iterations of the dress to Obama.

While he didn't grow up with his father, Wiley traveled to meet him in Nigeria when he was 20 years old. President Obama is set against a riot of greenery that, according to the artist, charts "his path on Earth through those plants". To represent John F. Kennedy, for example, the National Portrait Gallery uses an image by Elaine de Kooning which gives the strong sense of being provisional and improvisatory, with the paint seemingly smeared quickly and thinly on the canvas. As it is also the Black History Month, the unveiling of the Obama portraits created a huge buzz online and Netizens couldn't stop praising the portraits for how beautifully it depicted their "favourite" President and First Lady. The artist, Kehinde Wiley, explained that the flowers chart his path on earth.

For the most part, though, people were just really excited.

These paintings were enough to revive the longstanding right-wing meme that Obama is racist against white people and to make Wiley the latest object of the far-right internet's smear machine. What happens when you're painting the head of the free world?

Sherald painted Michelle Obama in "grayscale" - a charcoal color with taupe undertones.

United Kingdom threatens to cut off aid cash to charities
She added: "If the moral leadership at the top of the organisation isn't there, then we cannot have you as a partner". Ms Thomson said she was working closely with chief executive Mark Goldring to make improvements.

Critics said the former president looked like he was crouching in an outhouse, or that the painting of Michelle Obama did not look like her at all. As I marveled at the memory of a reflective president, the European wire service reporter sitting next to me sighed, took off her glasses, and wiped her eyes. They truly must be seen - at least online - to fully appreciate. Her works stand in direct opposition to prejudice and discrimination while questioning contemporary definitions of identity. Quadrants of color-coded seats sorted Gallery staff (yellow) and Media (blue) from Friends (red). Old-timers like me can remember a similar shock when Pablo Picasso's untitled lion-like gift to Chicago was unveiled in 1967, when one North Side alderman sniffed that it should have been replaced with a statue of "Mr. Cub", Ernie Banks.

"And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives", she continued, "because I was one of those girls". "But Milly's design also resembles the inspired quilt masterpieces made by the women of Gee's Bend, a small remote black community in Alabama where they compose quilts in geometries that transform clothes and fabric remnants into masterpieces". In this way, Sherald wondrously troubles assumptions about blackness and representation in portraiture. Both artists have addressed the politics of race consistently in their past work, and both have done so in subtly savvy ways in these new commissions.

Kehinde Wiley is known for august portraits of African American figures and has formerly painted such icons as Michael Jackson, Grandmaster Flash, and the Notorious B.I.G.

But ultimately, it presents something new.

"What do you want me to tell Romney?"

Barton Girdwood produced the broadcast version of this story.

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