It is vitally important to spend time comparing and contrasting work done by different artists in order to better understand the meaning and the historical context behind the pieces. This understanding is imperative because many modern artists have based their artwork off of the work done by artists of the past. A classic example of this can be seen in Kehinde Wiley's work, which mirrors, yet redefines, works done by historical figures such as Phillip II, Anthony van Dyck, and Napoleon I. Born in South Central Los Angeles in 1977, Kehinde first attended art school at age 11. In LA, he was involved in the environment that was driven by hip-hop culture: violence, anger, and anti-social behavior. His mother worked hard to get him and his siblings out of the hood. He would attend art school on the weekends, and there he most enjoyed trying to make one piece of art look like something completely different. This made him feel important and allowed him to think outside the box. Sometimes he would start with drawings of shadowed fruit, and then he would turn it into a human head and add the body.
As an undergrad at the San Francisco Art Institute, he really focused on learning how to become a masterful painter, grasping all the aspects of the skill. And then at Yale University, he became much more focused on bringing out social issues like identity, sexuality and gender, politics, and other topics in his paintings, which is why his work is so important to art history. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and focuses on painting everyday African-American men and women, celebrating their culture through them. He once said, "I think there's something important in going against the grain, and perhaps finding value in things that necessarily institutionally recognized."
One of the artists Kehinde mimics in his art is Anthony van Dyck. Sir Anthony van Dyck was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England. He was born on March 22, 1599 in Antwerp, Belgium. When he was ten years old, his father sent him off to be trained by the painter Hendrik Van Balen. In 1615, after about seven years at the workshop, Anthony Van Dyck was able to set up his own workshop and take on an apprentice. Van Dyck also worked as an assistant painter with Peter Paul Rubens and was accepted into the Lucas Guild of painters in 1618. His work was important during many different time periods including Baroque, Antwerp school, the Dutch Golden Age, the Northern Renaissance, Mannerism, and Realism. He was best known for painting portraits of European aristocracy, but he also explored religious and mythological ideas and was very skilled at drafting and etching. One of his most famous paintings is titled Charles I at the Hunt, which Kehinde Wiley mimics in his piece titled La Roi a la Chasse.
The first art piece to examine is Charles I at the Hunt by Anthony Van Dyke. This piece was created with oil paints on canvas, painted in 1635. It was painted in the Baroque art movement, and the subject of the piece is King Charles I of England on one of his countryside hunts. Van Dyck painted the King standing casually, one leg extended while one arm rests on his hip and the other on his cane or walking stick. He appears to be almost nonchalant, an amused smirk playing on his face. He is dressed in fancy attire, including boots and red pants, along with a silky shirt and gloves. He has a sword fastened to his hip and a large black hat sitting crookedly on his head. His hair is long and his lip is decorated with a shaggy mustache. His complexion is almost unnaturally pale, and he is not looking directly at the camera. While it is clear that he is royalty, he appears to be slender and pale almost to an unhealthy extent. Behind him is his horse, who looks entirely fit to be royal. The neck of the dappled grey creature is decorated with a golden mane, bending its head down as a possible sign of exertion. There are two men behind Charles I, one of them tending to the horse and the other appearing to be carrying coats or some other objects of clothing. The scenery around the men appears to be a small clearing just at the edge of the forest, overlooking the ocean. The whole piece seems to have a yellowish tint to it, many of the tones darker and more shadowy. Overall, the richness and beauty of Van Dyck's work is what has earned its reputation, and as artists we are able to learn much from his technique and style of portraiture.
The second piece to examine is La Roi a la Chasse by Kehinde Wiley. This piece was done by Kehinde to mirror Charles I at the hunt, only the subject is an African American male. His posture mimics that of Charles I, one hand rested on his hip and the other on a cane. The hand on his hip is held behind him, and if one looks closely, it almost looks as though he is making the "Ok" sign with his fingers. His posture also seems nonchalant and almost mocking or superior. His head is tilted back, one eyebrow raised and his other features serious. His hair is cut short, and there is a small goatee decorating his chin. He is dressed in his everyday clothes, a white T-shirt and striped athletic pants with red, black and white sneakers. The cane he holds is golden, and on his forearm is a tattoo reading "GOD IS WITH ME". On his other wrist is a watch. The background color behind him is a pale blue color, covered with all different variations of flowers. There are white, blue. pink, magenta, and orange blossoms with twisting stems and leaves. The whole piece is full of vibrancy and color, also making a bold statement in the art community. Kehinde's work can be a source of inspiration for all upcoming artists who are excited about going against the grain and making a difference in our society.
Taking a look at both pieces in relation to one another, it is easy to begin spotting similarities between the two. Firstly, let's begin with the obvious. Both paintings depict a man who is powerful. Both men are standing in a similar position, the look of superiority on their expressions. In both pieces, there is a theme of wildlife and nature, greenery carried out throughout both. The pale blue color of the sky in Van Dyck's painting is also carried into Kehinde's piece in the background, creating a correlation with the older artwork. These pieces mimic one another in their exploration of power and prestige, focusing on the characteristics of the men painted. Looking at either piece is intriguing to the viewer, causing him or her to desire to know more about the painted subjects and the meaning the artists had desired to impart.
In contrast, it is just as easy and just as important to look at the pieces and find the stark differences that are presented. These differences, perhaps, are most important to what Kehinde was trying to convey through his work. In this observation, we will also begin with the most obvious, touching the core purpose of Wiley's famous paintings. In Van Dyck's piece, the subject is a wealthy, well known, royal European king presented in fancy attire. In contrast, Wiley has chosen to mimic the painting using an not-particularly wealthy or well known African-American male dressed in his everyday clothing. This is a bold statement in the art society, bringing attention to the power and recognition that Kehinde believes the African-American culture deserves. The man in Wiley's piece is not well dressed, does not own a horse, does not have people nearby who serve him, is not royalty, and does not carry a sword at his hip. Rather, as the man's tattoo indicates, God is with him, which is better than any physical weapon. To be frank, this man is not well known and could be considered by society to be a "nobody". Yet, in this piece, he displays a beauty and a power that Kehinde has captured perfectly. His face and posture almost seems to be mocking, as if to say that he deserves to be recognized just as much as Charles I did, if not more. The simplicity of his clothing is refreshing, and he seems to be more comfortable and natural-looking than Charles I in Van Dyck's piece. The background carries the same theme of nature, yet in Kehinde's piece it seems to be more light and refreshing, rather than full of yellow tones and dark shadows. The entire style of each art piece is very different, as can be expected considering the time gap between the creation of each piece, yet each is skillfully executed and incredibly inspiring.
As artists, it is important for us to be informed about the history of art in order to recognize how modern artists are building on the ideas of our ancestors. Techniques, ideas, stereotypes, and boundaries are always being redefined, and inspiration often comes through the recognition of other artist's work. After a thorough comparison of Anthony van Dyck's Charles I at the Hunt and Kehinde Wiley's La Roi a la Chasse, one is able to understand the direct correlation between the pieces and explore the deeper meaning behind Wiley's mimicking of Van Dyck. While both pieces hold certain similarities, they also contrast greatly, making the viewer think deeply about their differences. Kehinde has taken one portrait that has been considered the image of power, and made his own rendition using someone who may not typically be viewed as great. By redefining that stereotype, he has inspired countless viewers, myself included, to go out into the world and challenge other boundaries within our society. However, both Anthony van Dyck and Kehinde Wiley have created pieces that are inspiringly beautiful, and it is important to learn everything we can from the work of these artists.