Former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama unveiled their official portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC on Monday.
Appropriately, Kehinde Wiley became the first African American artist to paint a presidential portrait when he was commissioned by America’s first African American president. “The ability to be first African-American painter to paint the first African-American president…it doesn’t get any better than that,” Wiley remarked at today’s unveiling.
Wiley earned notoriety for his highly naturalistic paintings of famed African American figures, including hip-hop artists like the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Ice T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, as well as Michael Jackson and more.
“How about that? That’s pretty sharp,” proclaimed president Obama in response to Wiley’s painting. “I tried to negotiate less gray hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow (him) to do what I asked,” he quipped. “I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well.”
Former first lady Obama chose Amy Sherald to paint her portrait. The first-prize winner of the Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, Sherald is known for challenging stereotypes and probing notions of identity through her life-size paintings of African Americans.
See both portraits below. They will be on display at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery beginning Tuesday.