Israel enters renowned painter’s ‘World’

Israel enters renowned painter’s ‘World’

Kehinde Wiley's imagination sparked by the spiritual

At left, Kehinde Wiley’s “Alios Itzhak” shows an Israeli of Ethiopian heritage against the background of an ancient European Torah cover: Above, the Jewish Museum’s associate curator, Karen Levitov, is dwarfed by the monumental work created by Kehinde Wiley. The painting, “Abed Al Ahse and Chalked El Aweari,” shows two young men in Israel. Courtesy of Maxine Dovere

Spiritual concepts, emotions, or experiences may spark an artist’s creative imagination. Kehinde Wiley is inspired by all three.

The Jewish Museum in New York City is exhibiting The World Stage: Israel, a series of paintings by Wiley, in its Bloomberg Gallery. Wiley found the muse for his monumental works in traditional European Jewish paper cuttings and ancient Hebraic embroidery. They integrate realistic representations of young Israelis of Ethiopian heritage, and they are painted with almost photographic reality.

Wiley paints in the style of traditional portraitists. His subjects, however, reflect contemporary images in a fusion of periods and styles. His work, said the exhibit’s curator, Karen Levitov, “creates a convergence of the diaspora geography of the Jewish journey.”

The 14 paintings on display are one of several groups in Wiley’s “World” series. Each concentrates on a specific population. They include heroically posed young African-American, Afro-Brazilian, and Indian men, as well as the Ethiopian Israelis displayed at the Jewish Museum.

Wiley took his initial inspiration from books, Levitov said. “Only late in his journey did he have the opportunity to explore the extensive storeroom of the museum and study the original embroideries and cutting patterns” he painted as his ornament keynotes, she said. His portraits integrate these patterns with realistic human figures, creating “a visual description of Ethiopian Jewish young men’s experience in Israel,” she added. Each painting on display at the Jewish Museum portrays a complex individual story.

A New York-based portrait painter whose works combine naturalistic images of contemporary people with traditional symbolic designs, Wiley was born in California. His father is Nigerian. His talent was evident early ““ by the time he was 12, he already had studied art in Russia. At 20, he traveled to Nigeria to explore his roots and meet his father.

Wiley holds degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute and Yale University School of Art. He uses a multimedia creative process including photographic imaging and fine oil portraiture. He describes his approach as “interrogating the notion of the master painter, at once critical and complicit.”

Kehinde Wiley’s The World Stage: Israel will be at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan through July 29, 2012. For more information go to the museum’s website,

JointMedia News Service

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