Kehinde Wiley Portraits: The Face is the Soul of the Body

February 16, 2016

“The face is the soul of the body.”
— Ludwig Wittgenstein, from Culture and Value, translated by Peter Winch

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I thoroughly enjoyed the Seattle Art Museum’s new exhibit, “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic.”  Wiley’s gigantic canvases depict portraits of people of color, whose oversized presence is dignified and regal.  Wiley paints realistic images in a world where abstraction seems more trendy and modern.  But he succeeds, I think, because he puts his models in settings you would normally see in classic, European paintings — and this twist is both humorous and thought-provoking.

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There is something compelling about Wiley’s portraits.  He captures something of their soul in their stances and attitudes.

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So much character is revealed in these portraits.

“I read the face, I saw and contemplated it to the point of losing myself in it.  How many faces to the face.  More than one.  Three, four, but always the only one, and the only one always more than one.”
— Helene Cixous, from “Coming to Writing,” in Coming to Writing and Other Essays, ed. Deborah Jenson

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“To paint the same head over and over leads you to its unfamiliarity; eventually you get near the raw truth about it . . .”
— Frank Auerbach, from “The Art of Frank Auerbach”

“When you’re trying to make a portrait of somebody you know well, you have to forget and forget until what you see astonishes you.  Indeed, at the heart of any portrait which is alive, there is registered an absolute surprise surrounded by close intimacy.”
— John Berger, Understanding a Photograph

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The exhibit includes some of Wiley’s stained glass and sculptures — he’s a multi-talented artist.

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If you are in Seattle, the Kehinde Wiley exhibit is worth a visit.  It runs through May 8th at the Seattle Art Museum.

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One Response to “Kehinde Wiley Portraits: The Face is the Soul of the Body”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    The most interesting comment, to me, was Auerbach’s: “To paint the same head over and over leads you to its unfamiliarity; eventually you get near the raw truth about it . . .”

    It reminded me of what it’s like to say a word over and over, until it becomes meaningless. It’s a strange experience, that seems only to “happen” — it’s hard to impose meaninglessness.


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