The coolest president and first lady ever (non-objectively speaking) just revealed their official portraits at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and the paintings are just as beautiful, modern, and monumental as their subjects.
The former president tapped Kehinde Wiley, a Yale University-trained painter known for painting people of color in the style of the Old Masters with heroic poses against bright or naturalistic backgrounds.
According to , Wiley is the first African-American artist chosen for a president’s official portrait. His work subverts the tropes of portraiture by positioning people of color, particularly black men, against traditional signifiers of glorification and regality.
"What I was always struck by when I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our ideas of power and privilege," Obama said, .
President Obama said his portrait was “pretty sharp,” but admitted he had tried to woo Kehinde into the presidential portrait equivalent of the Valencia filter.
"I tried to negotiate less gray hair and Kehinde's artistic integrity would not allow [him] to do what I asked," Obama said. "I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well."
Former First Lady Michelle also chose an African-American artist whose work has powerful social undertones, Baltimore-based artist . While some Twitter users said Sherald’s portrait of Michelle did not resemble her, the painter’s style focuses less on realism and more on the symbolic construction — often painting Black people as grey to undercut race's assigned colors.
Michelle said she was humbled by the work, and spoke of what it will mean to young girls of color.
"They will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution," she said. "And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls."
The portraits will be on view to the public at the museum on Tuesday.