Friday, 19 August 2011

Kehinde Wiley's Intertextuality

This week’s ALVC class focuses on the postmodern theme "INTERTEXTUALITY", re-read Extract 1 the death of the author on page 39 of your ALVC books and respond to the oil paintings of Kehinde Wiley.

1. Find a clear definition of Intertextuality and quote it accurately on your blog using the APA referencing system. Use your own words to explain the definition more thoroughly.

Intertextuality is ‘a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another”
Kristeva. (1969). Word, Dialogue, Novel.  Chapter 4: Semeiotike. Paris: France.
 Sourced from: Orr, M. (2003). Intertextuality: Debates and contexts. Cambridge, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

“The fundamental and inescapable interdependence of all textual meaning upon the structures of meaning proposed by other texts”
Gray, J. (2006).Watching the Simpsons: television, parody and intertextuality. NY, USA: Taylor & Francis

Intertextuality is the idea that everything is made up of and given meaning from what has been before regardless of real influence. Nothing is completely new and alone as everything is made up and shaped by previous texts. Meaning is derived from the reader’s referencing of texts seen before in reading a new text. Intertextuality credits the audience with the necessary experience/knowledge to make sense of the allusions in a text to other texts, offering them the pleasure of recognition. Regardless of the text having been influenced by something specific, texts or things seen or experienced by the viewer beforehand will influence them towards the new text, its meaning and their response. 

2. Research Wiley's work and write a paragraph that analyzes how we might make sense of his work. Identify intertextuality in Wiley's work.
Kehinde Wiley creates large, colourful, ornate paintings of young African-American men in theatrical poses based on well-known images of powerful figures from European portraiture. Through his work, Wiley addresses the image and status of African-American men in contemporary culture.  He mixes techniques of renaissance paintings with hip hop subject matters, “lifting his subjects straight from the street and rendering them-complete with sneakers, track pants, tank tops, and team caps-in the visual language of classic European portraiture” (M.I.A, 2011). Pictorially, Wiley gives the authority of the historical sitters to his 21st century subjects collating modern culture with the influence of Old Masters. His large scale figurative paintings are often adorned with ornate gilded frames and illuminated with a barrage of baroque or rococo decorative patterns intermingling with the figures (“Painting: Kehinde Wiley,” 2011) . He also plays around with the traditional ideas of portraying masculinity and physicality whilst blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation (“Kehinde Wiley,” 2011).
His work shows intertextuality through its similarities to Renaissance portraiture. In the Renaissance, portraits were done to show the power and wealth a person had and we get this sense of power through Wiley’s works. The flag in the red and black work references old Latin script at the same time as graffiti in the situation it is in.

The casual clothing we see on the figures makes us picture them on the street not in a painting. Some aspects appear older renaissance influenced as in the Count Potocki piece where the horse especially around its head and mane appear very 2D and flat compared to the rider who seems more 3D. This shows the influence of the old style of painting technique in Wiley’s works.

I personally can see intertextuality in very clearly and for me specifically in the portrait of Ice T which reminds me of many of the portraits of Cosimo de Medici. It also reminds me of parodies of this painting I have seen before so I recognised the influence when I saw Wiley’s version of Napoleon by Ingres.

 I also get a feeling of modernity from Wiley’s work especially after I read that he likes to “throw away the old rules. This is something that, as artists, we constantly deal with-throwing away the past, slaying the father, and creating the new” (M.I.A, 2011). Intertextuality is also seen in his works Colonel Platoff on his charger (2008) in its allusion to the romantic portraiture of James Ward and Jacque-Louis David’s Napoleon on Horseback (1801. The work Sleep (2008) also alludes to Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ (1602-03) through its use of the renaissance artist’s legendary chiarscuro lighting. Noticeably connections can also be drawn between rococo ornamentation and the hip hop industry’s flare for colour, ornamentation, theatrics and excess (New Museum, 2011). The intertextuality is easily identified in Wiley’s works and shows how the audience relies on previous knowledge and experience to read a work and give it meaning for themselves as well as the idea of pleasure in recognising ideas they have been exposed to before.
3. Wiley's work relates to next week’s postmodern theme "PLURALISM". Read page 46 and discuss how the work relates to this theme.
Through his work Wiley shows pluralism by not showing the ‘dominant’ culture of the white middle class citizen, instead portraying black males in their place. He has put the African American men into the place of their white counterparts showing them posed and regal instead of the expected tough dangerous exterior usually portrayed by artists depicting black men.
Wiley’s work contrasts the grandiose past of the 18th century European leisure class with the excess found in hip hop culture where the iced out platinum chain reigns as the royal crest and the luxury SUV is the horse and carriage (Jackson, 2003). He has made his work depicting a different ethnicity than the norm and of subjects with different economic and educational backgrounds. He has made his work pluralist overlapping cultures - that of the European poses and backgrounds, combined with the African American figures - making his works able to communicate multiple identities in the one work. Wiley talks about walking into the LACMA to see Kerry James Marshall’s barbershop painting and how he noticed the absence of other black images in the Museum; he said there was something absolutely heroic and fascinating about being able to feel a certain relationship to the institution through the fact that these people happen to look like him on some level (Williams, 2011). Through his works Wiley has done this, his work connecting to people and as he says “that’s partly the success of my work – the ability to have a young black girl walk into the Brooklyn Museum and see paintings she recognizes not because of their art or historical influence but because of their inflection” (M.I.A, 2011).

4. Comment on how Wiley's work raises questions around social/cultural hierarchies, colonisation, globalisation, stereotypes and the politics which govern a western worldview. 
Renaissance portraits were done to show someone’s wealth and power in society and Wiley has used his portraits in a similar way to make a statement about African American people in contemporary society. He is a rarity in the fine-art world portraying black figures over the usual white ones. He challenges the public perception of black males and strong American views on being overly fixated towards racial identity and identity in general (M.I.A, 2011). As an artist Wiley has always remained committed to showcasing thorny issues of how gender and identity is presented against the backdrop of art history he interrogates the notions of race, privilege and class through his works commenting on the absence of the black figure not only from art history but also from a white patriarchal society (New Museum, 2011). “The absence of young black urban men in paintings says something about our society” (Jackson, 2003). Wiley says that there is a constant state for people of colour working in the fine arts, that regardless of what you do with the subject matter it always comes down to something so essential about skin colour, but the dream of the artist is always to go beyond that. To transcend expectations, to transcend class, race, gender, sexuality, class (Indrisek, 2008).  “The portraits [Wiley creates] examine not only how African American males are viewed by others, but also how they see themselves. Wiley hones in on their desire to pose, to be seen, to keep it real, to be faux, but above all, to represent” (Jackson, 2003).
He addressed the issue of colonisation by using decorative patterning as a mode of inscribing African American figures into histories of art (Galt, 2011). His works show multicultural identities challenging the preconceived ideas of social hierarchy and racial stereotypes. He also challenges previous African American art, much having been a political type of art, “very didactic and based on the ‘60’s” and makes his art not constrained by the expectations that his work should be solely political (M.I.A, 2003)

5. Add some reflective comments of your own, which may add more information that you have read during your research.
I love Kehinde Wiley’s works and the overlapping he does of the background decoration with his figures and subject matter. I like that he has challenged the social status of African American men putting them into poses and referencing European art making a statement but in a beautiful aesthetically pleasing not jus blatant ‘here is my point’ way. I love his painting technique and its similarities to Renaissance works as I think that time period has some of the most beautifully painted works.

·         M.I.A. (retrieved 18th August 2011). Kehinde Wiley.
·         Painting: Kehinde Wiley (retrieved 18th August 2011).,
·         Kehinde Wiley (retrieved 17th August 2011).
·         New Museum. (2011). Rethinking Contemporary Art and Multicultural Education. New York, USA: Routledge.
·         Jackson, B. K. (2003, August). Visualise: B-Boy Stance. Vibe Magazine, 117
·         Williams, M. (retrieved 17th August 2011). The Transcontinental Breadth of a Contemporary Master.,
·         Indrisek, S.  (12/10/08). Q&A with Kehinde WileY.
·         Galt, R. (2011). Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image. New York, USA : Columbia University.


  1. I agree. His work raises questions around social/cultural hierarchies as his challenge. He obviously was influenced elegance art because he admitted it. He threw the sensational black man as a model into the elegance art and mood that may be pride of western society. He in the vulnerable society twisted the western society’s pride as it leads to awareness people in his culture. Although it may be one of my prejudices but their awareness rocked the general perception of black color in western society’s stereotype. Finally his painting demolished the boundaries and gave raise to sensation in the world.

  2. Through my research I did not find the same amount of information to the same extent. I did not realize that whilst Wiley's work of black men posing as if they were in the renaissance era, they are actually based on portraits that were actually done during this time.

    You involve extensive coverage of the works of Wiley and I learnt a lot from reading your blog.