Classic Avant-Garde Portrait
Every retiring president in the United States is invited to a portrait painter who creates a full-size portrait for him. These paintings are on display at the National Gallery in Washington. Presidents appear in these portraits in formal attire, standing or sitting against the backdrop of a room in the White House and are surrounded by classic items, such as a globe, a lavish desk, a classic pillar or a marble fireplace. The shades are restrained, dark, elegant and the look is penetrating, the portrait is usually at a 3/4 angle.
In contrast, President Obama's portrait offers a fresh avant-garde; It is depicted sitting on a chair immersed in an abundance of bright green vegetation, in an undefined, almost hovering space. His gaze is forward but his body is depicted at a 3/4 angle with his legs apart and bent at a right angle, his hands folded at his knees and he is actually bent forward and looking directly. The first thing that stands out is the green luster that is unlike anything in the official space and the restrained color scheme that is typical of all the previous portraits. The artist is Kahinda Willy, a black artist himself known for his colorful portraits, also of always black figures.
In addition to all these uniquenesses, his wife Michelle Obama commissioned a portrait for herself from another artist named Amy Charlotte, who used to paint black figures by mixing black and white colors and thus creating a somewhat gray skin tone. Her painting of Mrs. Obama is characterized by this and also an almost flat geometric look through the depiction of the lady's dress, which is a canvas crown that completely covers the chair on which she is sitting. The dress is adorned with a distinctly informal geometric print, more similar to the modernist avant-garde that characterized the early 20th century in Dutch-French art. An art that was famous for its geometric abstraction and bold colors.
The Obama couple chose not by chance two black artists, young and pioneers in contemporary art. Although these are two painters who grew out of the tradition of the realistic portrait, they developed languages unique to them and are at the forefront of the art of painting of the second decade in the 2000s.
The conclusion from this classic and contemporary American work is that a portrait is a lot of different things; an ancient tradition, a flexible genre for self-expression, an expression for the person appearing in the portrait and an expression of the artist, can be very formal but also very personal, solid or kicking, calm or explodes with excitement. I wonder how through such a traditional tool as a portrait and more in a conservative setting like the American White House, two young artists have managed to bring a different and personal voice while maintaining the dignified representation of the former presidential couple. In fact, any portrait can get the unique impression that the customer wants, in color, expression, background, objects and fashion that appears in it.
On You Are Art website you can order a portrait painting.
The photos are from: kottke.org/18/02/the-official-painted-portraits-of-barack-and-michelle-obama