REASON TO GATHER #4: Get to Know Kehinde Wiley


You might not know his name. But chances are, you know Kehinde Wiley‘s official Presidential portrait of Barack Obama. According to Julian Lucas’ recent New Yorker profile, Wiley has gone from “enfant terrible of the early two-thousands, when he became known for transfiguring hip-hop style into the idiom of the Old Masters, to one of the most influential figures in global Black culture”.

Wiley has LA roots. He was born in 1977 to two UCLA students, his father a visiting student from Nigeria and his mother a local who encouraged Kehinde and his twin brother to study art. Wiley attended the LA County High School for the Arts, and eventually earned a MFA from Yale; he found his calling as a portraitist long before he rocketed to international fame with his floral-field masterpiece of the former president. The New Yorker profiles his remarkable life and influence – I was fascinated to learn about his process of image-making and his jet-setting lifestyle. Wiley searches for his models all over the world, and has created a thriving artists’ residency in Africa (he has homes in Nairobi and in Dakar, along the shore). He’s a world-class gatherer and taste-maker, reputedly an excellent cook and entertainer, and he commands a posse of workers who help to create the detailed backgrounds of his large-scale portraits.

When I learned that a new set of Wiley’s work, Colorful Realm would be opening at the newly relocated Roberts Projects, I made my way to La Brea Boulevard with a friend for an enjoyable morning of gallery hopping. The new canvasses are gorgeous – monumental yet personal, lusciously influenced by Japanese nature paintings of the Edo period (c.1600–1868). The main gallery features seven proudly posed black men (and one woman) juxtaposed against the finely drawn flowers and birds inspired by traditional Japanese silks. The flora and fauna are exquisite and the portraits fierce and beautiful. According to the New Yorker article, Wiley hired an expert bird painter to bring these creatures to life.


What is Edo? Here is a Kahn Academy description of the period, which lasted several hundred years and produced flourishing culture of Japan’s early modern era.

Here is the gallery’s press release, with helpful details about the work.

Read the recent New Yorker profile here.

Here is an older New Yorker article about the Presidential Portrait.

Here is an article I wrote a year ago, when Wiley’s painting “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” was presented at the Huntington, a commentary on that museum’s Thomas Gainsborough “Blue Boy” that Wiley had seen as a child.

Kehinde Wiley/Colorful Realms through April 8, 2023

ROBERTS PROJECTS (Newly relocated from Culver City)
442 South La Brea Avenue. A private parking lot is adjacent to the building but we easily found street parking on a weekday.


Pace Gallery

Wandering several blocks of La Brea is a relaxing way to spend a morning. We parked and walked the long blocks, dipping into stores, checking out work in several galleries, and sitting down for a bite to eat so we could process all the new visions. Here is a list of several major galleries in the general area which have luxe spaces for art with revolving exhibits.

Other Galleries:

We dropped into the nearby Pace Gallery (1201 S La Brea) to see a small group of Alexander Calder sculptures, presented by the artist Richard Tuttle. There is a related Tuttle exhibit across the street at the David Kordansky Gallery (5130 W Edgewood), another vibrant gallery.

Jeffrey Dietch Gallery has a Pussy Riot show called Putin’s Ashes from January 27-February 3. Expect crowds! At 925 North Orange Drive.

Regan Projects has a show by Elliott Hundley running through February 19. At 6750 Santa Monica Boulevard.

Fahey/Klein is an excellent photographic gallery with an interesting looking show by Bastiaan Woudt opening on February 2. At 148 North La Brea.

New York Gallerist Sean Kelly recently opened an LA space at 1357 North Highland.

The Matthew Marks Gallery has a show by Martin Puryear opening on February 15. 1062 North Orange Grove.

New York Gallerist Sean Kelly recently opened an LA space at 1357 North Highland.

Where to Dine on LA:

Sycamore Kitchen is always fabulous (143 S La Brea), Republique has a fun cafe area out front (624 S La Brea). We popped into Maison-Midi, hoping for a coffee, only to discover that the restaurant Maison et Cie closed during the pandemic, but will reopen later this spring.