If this is your first encounter with the work of New York portrait painter Kehinde Wiley, you’re probably thinking that you’ve never seen anything quite like it, but think again. Tone down the background to something more stately, or bucolic. Substitute the subject’s urban streetwear for gentleman’s attire – maybe some frills and a ruff. Add a pompadour. And, of course, change the complexion to Caucasian. Things should look a little more familiar now.
What Wiley creates are portraits in the grand British styles of the 17th and 18th Centuries, brought bang up to date and focused on the brown and black people of the world. His ongoing collection The World Stage has invited sitters with African heritage in America and Brazil, Indians, and on the latest leg of his journey Wiley stopped in the Trench Town district of Kingston, Jamaica. His heroically-posed men are portrayed against a background of William Morris-esque patterns, and their powerful positions comment on the relationship between past subjugation and the present day. For the first time his subjects include women, and this exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery heralds another first – Wiley’s maiden solo show in the UK. The exhibition is running until 16 November.