Artist reimagines classic paintings with modern twist
05:59 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Obamas tap African-American artists to paint their official portraits

Portraits will be unveiled at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in early 2018

CNN  — 

Artist Kehinde Wiley, known for his paintings of African-Americans and reinterpretations of classic artworks, has been chosen by former President Barack Obama to paint his official portrait for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

At the end of each presidency, the museum partners with the White House to commission one official portrait of the President and first lady.

Michelle Obama selected artist Amy Sherald, who is known for her life-size paintings of African-Americans, to paint her portrait, the museum announced Friday.

Both Obamas’ portraits will be unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in 2018, where they will be added to the museum’s permanent collection.

Wiley’s work adds a modern twist to re-imagined Western classic paintings, showing contemporary African-Americans in theatrical poses.

One of his works takes on Jacques-Louis David’s famous portrait of Napoleon crossing the Alps atop his favorite horse, Marengo. Wiley’s reinterpretation shows the same white horse, but ridden instead by a black man in camouflage and Timberland boots.

“What I choose to do is to take people who happen to look like me – black and brown people all over the world, increasingly – and to allow them to occupy that field of power,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in 2015.

Amy Sherald was the first-prize winner of the National Portrait Gallery's 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

His works include portraits of LL Cool J, Michael Jackson and Notorious B.I.G.

Sherald is a Baltimore-based artist who took first place in the Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. She won out over more than 2,500 entries, according to the museum.

The National Portrait Gallery will raise private funds for the two portraits, the unveiling event, educational programs and website, according to its press statement.