"I chose to depict Obama in front of a bush because 1) He succeeded and bested one, 2) None of his press secretaries hid in one," says portrait artist Kehinde Wiley.
Barack and Michelle Obama were back in the public eye Monday, lighting up Twitter after the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery unveiled its two newest additions to its presidential portraits collection.
The paintings of the 44th President of the United States and his First Lady were done by renowned painters Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively.
The Obamas were on hand for the unveiling, with Barack helping Wiley remove the covering over his portrait. In breaking with the tradition of recent presidential portraits showing the men in their offices, Barack Obama is seated among a sea of green foliage with sparks of color.
Barack said he felt an immediate connection with Wiley as well as similarities, both had American mothers and absent African fathers. He described Wiley's artistic eye as one that challenges "our conventional views of power and privilege."
"When you look at this painting, you see a sure and amazing handsome man," Wiley said at the unveiling. "But you see the botanicals which speak to his story...In a symbolic way, I'm charting his path on earth." Wiley became the first African-American artist to create an official presidential portrait. He was hand-selected by Barack.
Michelle's portrait was bold with color as well, though more sparse in presentation. It featured the former first lady seated in a flowing gown in front of a light blue background. Upon seeing it, Michelle said she was "a little overwhelmed, to say the least."
"Amy, I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman I love," Barack said of the portrait.
Sherald is a different type of artist than Wiley. Also African-American, she uses bold color and shapes to discuss themes of social justice. She often portrays black skin tones as gray to take away the perceived "color" of the subject. For Michelle, her presence in the Gallery goes beyond just her, but to all little girls of color. "They will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution... And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls," she said.
The unveiling sent the portraits, the artists and the Obamas viral immediately, dominating social media. The bold statements of both portraits earned great enthusiasm and excitement. Below are some of the best Twitter responses.
I LOVE that Barack and Michelle Obama chose Black artists to paint their portraits. The Obamas were America's first Black first family, so it's fitting they bestowed this "first" on two Black artists as well. pic.twitter.com/nQfofwJVTy— Britni Danielle (@BritniDWrites) February 12, 2018
Whose idea was it to have Obama surrounded by Bushes for a portrait? pic.twitter.com/6iN2yBVwjZ— Matt’s Idea Shop (@MattsIdeaShop) February 12, 2018
I'M REALLY MISSING THE OBAMAS. THEY'RE UP HERE CELEBRATING DIVERSITY AND ART AND BEING ROLE MODELS AND PLEASE COME BACK BARACK AND MICHELLE. pic.twitter.com/KMAXR33cOa— Catherine McParland (@Cat_McParland) February 12, 2018
Love or hate the Obamas' portraits I'm glad they chose two Black artists. Cuz Lord knows if they didn't, Super Saiyan Woke Twitter would have 50-11 dissertations on here about them supporting the White gaze.— ReBecca Theodore-Vachon (@FilmFatale_NYC) February 12, 2018
Who knew President Obama was Team Luann? pic.twitter.com/m13SICi5Ze— Sam Herbst (@mrsamherbst) February 12, 2018
I can't get over how perfect these portraits are. The future seems brighter every time we get to see the Obamas. #NPG— Akilah Hughes (@AkilahObviously) February 12, 2018
I am consuming the Obamas speaking on TV right now like someone drinking water after months in the desert.— Jennifer Bakos (@jenbakos) February 12, 2018
wait no sean wat are you doing pic.twitter.com/bLABp3wq4E— delrayser (@delrayser) February 12, 2018
Kehinde Wiley: “I chose to depict Obama in front of a bush because 1) He succeeded and bested one 2) None of his press secretaries hid in one.”— Broderick Greer (@BroderickGreer) February 12, 2018
This portrait immortalizes my two favorite things about President Obama. He placed furniture wherever. And zero allergies. pic.twitter.com/tuN3yJ2V7V— Anthony Jeselnik (@anthonyjeselnik) February 12, 2018
I really like both of the portraits and I love that the Obamas chose to showcase the immense talents of two black artists. It's was a new chapter in our country's history and I love a new style of art to commemorate it.— Jenna (@jennaep7) February 12, 2018