Look, I almost feel sorry for the Obamas – almost. To be memorialized for posterity by these paintings in the Smithsonian’s Portrait Gallery –
is almost too karmic. They are underwhelming to say the least.
The former Prez and First Lady got to choose who painted their portraits – Kehinde Wiley painted Barack, and Michelle was painted by Amy Sherald, with whom the former First Lady said she felt ‘a sister-girl’ connection immediately at their first interview. Both artists are noted for the social justice themes in their artwork. This is what happens when identity politics outranks merit, and in a way it is an utterly appropriate outcome for these two.
The President’s is a good likeness, and the rest of the painting is typical of this artist’s wallpaper-like backgrounds. Not my favorite style of painting by a long shot, but it seems well-executed, though oddly posed. Michelle does not fair as well – I don’t think it looks like her, and many are commenting the same online. The artist typically uses gray tones to paint people of color for some reason – you’d probably have to read her CV to find out why – and indeed uses washed-out colors for the whole painting, giving it a look my college painting professor would have called ‘necrotic.’
I think they really did keep the paintings hidden until their unveiling. And I do give Michelle credit for having the grace not to use any actual words that connoted the shock, disappointment and confusion apparent in her tone as she grasped for something to say after the unveiling.
If you can wait past the brief ad before the video in the link below, it’s worth watching Mrs. Obama for once being almost speechless.