Presidents have many different types of portraits. Sometimes they have plain or semi-abstract backgrounds, such as Reagan in his pinstripe suit against a red glow or the golden-white Obama portrait by Edwin van den Dikkenberg. Other times, portraits have a little Washington DC in them, such as the Oval Office or the Capitol—in Reagan’s case the side of his desk, in Obama’s case the regal chair he is sitting in. Many other presidents had largely unfinished borders around the bust, often spilling into the image of the president himself. In Obama’s freshly unveiled official portrait by Kehinde Wiley, he is sitting much the same way as W in the Robert Anderson, 2008 portrait.
I didn’t like Obama; ISIS rose and he left his work easily unraveled. Still, I submit that this is not a bad portrait of Obama. It is good by any standard of past presidents and it belongs. I wish I could take the credit; the leaves bring a “plain” background to life.
But, it seemed to break “color theory” of artwork and design; Shantavia Beale II, also by Wiley, does not.
I tested a hunch in GIMP. I toned down the saturation and lightness of the leaves from about RGB #58D1A4 to about #6BB585, a more natural green like in the Shantavia piece. My focus was drawn to Obama himself. That’s what backgrounds are supposed to do, even when they celebrate color.
The semi-abstract piece of Michelle would befit the side of a building in a populated city. I think being approachable like that is what Michelle wants.
But, about colors—whether natural vs pastel or color of skin… I lived in inner city Chicago four years and Asia nine; Blacks and Asians seem to like louder colors. Some argue Black people don’t see colors as well, others argue White folk prefer colors like their skin: bland and boring. I argue both, that God made us a colorful people in many ways.
In a sense, this is a purple limo with orange rims. We should expect African American art from the first Black president. That’s a good thing. I honestly suspect, though, that Wiley wanted the Shantavia green, but Obama cast one veto for pastel. It wouldn’t be the first time a patron overruled the artist.
That said, haters gonna’ hate. If you’re White, learn a thing or two about fellow Americans. If you’re Black, be proud.