Gus Franklyn-Bute Editor-in-Chief

Kehinde Wiley: ‘The World Stage: Jamaica’ Exhibition, London


Kehinde Wiley, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
Copyright the artist. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London

“‘The World Stage: Jamaica’ is the seventh platform within a series of projects that explore portrait painting in the context of the broader evolution of global pop culture. I chose models through a street casting process in the neighborhood of Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica, as well as the dance halls and clubs throughout the city. The works investigate the rhetorical strengths of 18th- and 19th-century British portraiture and draw a distinct line of cultural and economic lineage between the United Kingdom and Jamaica. ‘The World Stage: Jamaica’ seeks to provoke the viewer to reassess the visual vocabulary of the portrait and the depiction of black and brown people globally.” Kehinde Wiley, ‘Modern Painters’, September 2013

Jamaican Symbolism in 17th, 18th Century British Portraiture

Stephen Friedman Gallery are the delightful host of ‘The World Stage: Jamaica’, Kehinde Wiley’s first ever UK solo exhibition. Wiley has already achieved international acclaim for his highly naturalistic paintings of contemporary urban men adopting heroic poses directly referencing classical portraiture. Kehinde Wiley’s celebrated ‘The ‘World Stage’ body of work, previously focused on Brazil, China, Israel, Nigeria, Senegal and Sri Lanka, exhibited across museums and galleries in Europe and the USA.

The World Stage: Jamaica‘ exhibition at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, features Jamaican men and women postering in 17th and 18th Century British portraiture, and it is also the first time in the ‘World Stage’ series that portraits of women are featured. The juxtaposition between the sitter and the art historical references reflects on the relationship between Jamaica and her former colonial power. Wiley is restaging this history, transforming the race and gender of the traditional art-historical hero to reflect the contemporary urban environment. The subjects’ proud posturing refers to both the source painting and the symbolism of Jamaican culture, with its singular people and specific ideals of youth, beauty and style.

Kehinde Wiley: ‘Sir Brooke Boothby’ 2013, Oil on canvas, 198 x 301cm (78 x 118 1/2in)
Copyright the artist. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London

Wiley embellishes his paintings with intricate, ornate backgrounds that contradict the sombre posturing of the subjects and allude to the bold styles of urban fashion. In this new body of work, lavish patterning informed by the iconic British textile designer William Morris surround, overlay and entwine the figures. Pieces of these symbolic patterns both harmoniously fuse and create dramatic opposition between the two contrasting elements that form the work. In previous series, this decoration has been inspired by a fusion of period styles, ranging from Islamic architecture to Dutch wax printed textile and French Rococo design.

Kehinde Wiley: ‘Naomi and her Daughters’ 2013, Oil on canvas,
300 x 256cm (118 3/8 x 100 7/8in)

Stephen Friedman Gallery Exhibition Preview film

For this project, Wiley renders his subjects in exquisite detail, capturing a pose, a history and a culture. Jamaica is filtered through aspects of British history to create something wholly unique; disparate iconography, such as a contemporary tattoo and a William Morris wallpaper design, merge together to form equal parts of the narrative. The artist continues to redefine portraiture, cementing his status as one of the leading painters working today.

Kehinde Wiley: ‘Frederick William III, King of Prussia’ 2013, Oil on canvas, 173 x 143cm (68 1/8 x 56 3/8in)
Copyright the artist. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London

The gallery also presents a film depicting Wiley’s process as the project unfolds. The camera follows the artist on his research trips to London, visiting the National Portrait Gallery, Dulwich Picture Gallery and Brixton Market, and then onto Jamaica. There it follows him to underground dance halls, Negril beach and downtown Kingston as he searches for the models for his paintings.

The World Stage: Jamaica‘ is must see and is due to finish on 16 November 2013. So there is still time!
Stephen Friedman Gallery opening hours: Tuesday to Friday, 10am – 6pm and Saturday, 11am – 5pm

Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977 in Los Angeles, USA) lives and works in New York, USA and Beijing, China. He will be the subject of a major solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, USA in 2015.  Wiley’s work features in the permanent collections of numerous prominent institutions including The Jewish Museum, New York; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn; Studio Museum, Harlem; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

ALL Copyright the artist. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Words reprinted courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.  Please see CREDIT tab below for further credits and links. Our kind thanks to Stephen Friedman Gallery and CCH Pounder on her visit to London for bringing this exhibition ACU|BIEN‘s attention.