5 Black Portrait Artists You Should Know

From Kehinde Wiley to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

By Google Arts & Culture

President Barack Obama (2018) by Kehinde WileySmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

1. Kehinde Wiley

Famous, of course, for painting the presidential portrait of Barack Obama, Kehinde Wiley paints black sitters in a Heroic style.

Though meticulously detailed and naturalistic, Wiley's portraits make his sitters feel iconic.

Portrait of Savannah Essah (2020) by Kehinde WileyWilliam Morris Gallery

In 2005, Wiley restaged Jacques Louis-David's Napoleon Crossing the Alps, replacing the French General with a modern African soldier. But it's not only Obamas and Napoleons who catch his eye. 

This portrait depicts Savannah Essah, a young British mother whom Wiley met on the streets of Dalston, East London. Her quiet, everyday power speaks confidently through the swirling decorative surroundings.

From the White House to the East End, Kehinde Wiley celebrates black power and personality with the same tender emphasis. 

First Lady Michelle Obama (2018) by Amy SheraldSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

2. Amy Sherald

Unveiled at the same time as Wiley's portrait of Barack, Amy Sherald's official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama has arguably become even more iconic. 

Sherald uses a technique called grisaille (varying tones of gray) alongside bold colors to give her sitters a striking appearance.

Try on dreams until I find the one that fits me. They all fit me. (2017) by Amy SheraldKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Look how colorful this young man's head dress is! It's not just decoration, though. It really helps his expression stand out and speak to the viewer.

Self-Portrait with Angels (1996) by Billy MandindiIziko Museums of South Africa

3. Billy Mandindi

South African painter and activist, Billy Mandindi, famously took part in a landmark anti-Apartheid protest in Cape Town, the Purple Rain Protest of 1989. His painting is just as bold, with strong colors and symbols combining in this powerful self-portrait.

The artist paints himself with a defiant stare, locking eyes with the viewer. 

"The Beautyful Ones" Series #5 (2016) by Njideka Akunyili CrosbyAlbright-Knox Art Gallery

4. Njideka Akunyili-Crosby

Nigerian-born, living and working in LA, Crosby makes art that explores life across two different cultures, finding difference and synthesis. Her collage-like paintings have a flat depth of field, making them feel intimate and immediate. 

Her paintings use photo-transfers to incorporate pictures from newspapers and magazines, placing the sitter in a wider cultural context.

Uncle of the Garden (2014) by Lynette Yiadom-BoakyeHayward Gallery

5. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Most of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's figures are imagined. Her paintings are raw, with muted dark colors, unapologetically celebrating blackness.

L'Ortolan (2011) by Lynette Yiadom-BoakyeArts Council Collection

She removes her portraits from any particular time or place, making them universal figures of black identity.

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