Kehinde Wiley has attained international acclaim with a vital message: “Painting is about the world we live in. Black people live in the world. My choice is to include them. This is my way of saying yes to us.” The first African American artist commissioned to paint the portrait of a president of the United States, Barack Obama, Wiley challenges the pre-eminent artistic language that has ignored people of colour for hundreds of years. Taking up the visual vocabulary of Byzantine, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical portraiture, he puts young Black men in positions of power.
Wiley’s source for Simeon the God Receiver is a fifteenth-century icon of the Novgorod school. The athletic body of its model, Eric Murphy, is covered in tattoos with multiple meanings – a rosary evoking religion, a portrait of Murphy’s son, and the logo of the magazine Rolling Stone – that together with the painting as a whole create a powerful dialogue across time, space and culture.