Today, the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley and Baltimore artist Amy Sherald were selected to do the portraits of the former POTUS and FLOTUS, respectively. Barack Obama’s portrait drew instant raves. Michelle’s, though, caused a bit more conversation.
Sherald is known for her vibrant and striking life-size portraits of black subjects. Her works feature bright colors in the background and clothing, but Sherald paints the skin of her subjects in gray tones, explaining that the use of gray allows her to “subversively comment about race without feeling as though I’m excluding the viewer.”
Sherald’s captivating portraits are both frank and a bit ethereal, and for Michelle Obama to choose a black woman who is a rising star in the art world to paint her portrait, gray skin and all, is a bold decision that celebrates black achievement.
Having said that, there is an awkward truth to be confronted: That does not look like Michelle Obama. Yes, the portrait exudes her grace and dignity, but the face, well, that face is not the face of my FLOTUS.
Maybe it’s better experienced in person?