According to the National Portrait Gallery‘s website, the former president tapped renowned New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley. The former first lady chose up-and-coming Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald to paint her portrait.
Wiley is perhaps best known for his portraits of young black men wearing the latest in street fashion, stylized in the vein of the Old Masters and set against colorful, patterned backdrops. His past subjects have included the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Ice T, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Michael Jackson, among others.
“I’d love, love, love to do his official presidential portrait. I’m actively campaigning,” Wiley said of painting Obama in an interview with Time Out New York in 2008. In 2012, he reiterated his interest to the BBC: “I think it would be really interesting to paint Obama. I’ve done several studies in the past, I’ve sort of worked out different strategies about how that would be, but it’s a very curious possibility. We’ll see where that goes.”
Sherald’s selection is also perhaps not such a surprising one, given her signature body of work depicting her subjects, mostly black men and women, in grey scale contrasted with colorful backgrounds. She won a National Portrait Gallery portrait prize last year, and has a portrait in the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture titled “Grand Dame Queenie.”
“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former President and First Lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a statement on the site. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”
This will mark the first time that black artists were hired by the Smithsonian to create a portrait of a former president since they started commissioning portraits in 1994, though the White House did commission a black Alabaman artist, Simmie Knox, to paint the Clintons in 2000.
The Obamas’ portraits will be revealed in early 2018.