Visual Culture: Kehinde Wiley Reveals His Creative Process
South Central Angeleno turned international superstar, Kehinde Wiley recently spent some time with GQ to offer a bit of insight on the creative process and subsequent large-scale production behind The World Stage - an indefinite series of paintings exalting the brown faces historically relegated to the background of baroque paintings and other classical works in the same way more modern historical accounts have found them confined to the back of the bus until recent decades.
While Wiley has faced criticism for his decision to employ a staff of painters and assistants, demand for his artwork necessitates as many hands as possible remain on deck. It also seems a little more appropriate when you consider the chutzpah (and travel insurance) required to name a body of work The World Stage; Kehinde Wiley likely could not paint the world--or satisfy it--to any useful degree without a bit of help.
Then there is the other side of the argument against his methods, which decries mass production for contributing to the lack of originality in the market for originals, leveled against major artists of all types and mediums who employ staff when producing in large format or quantity (Jeff Koons being one of the most widely criticized in that regard). Another interesting jab at Wiley's work is that it is flat and gives no insight into the individual subjects - a criticism that may hold weight against the grotesquely vivid backgrounds his subjects juxtapose, but one that is still laughable if you have ever laid eyes on a Wiley; there is nothing one-dimensional about the artist or his output.
What bears an unfortunate lack of dimension, however, is the possibility that those dismissing Wiley's work could be delivering complaints derived more from negative feelings more associated with his subjects than his level of craft or ingenuity. Prospective collectors can take solace in the fact that the intricately patterned and unmistakable flourish that characterizes a Wiley painting could come from nowhere else but Wiley's studio, even if it may not always come entirely from his hand. The discerning eye with which he picks and utilizes every medium in his life has made it abundantly clear that his artistic output - the bread and butter of Kehinde Wiley at his most basic - assuredly receives the bulk of his scrutiny and likely the application of a fine-toothed comb before being loosed upon the walls of any gallery space or zealous collector's abode.
If the specifications Wiley provides for having suits tailored is any indication, nothing less than precisely what he envisions and executes to his own exacting standards - with or without a team - will leave his studio. For those still skeptical of what goes into the pieces that come out of Wiley's Beijing workspace, he takes us through a bit of his creative process. Peep game.