After each presidency the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. partners with the White House to commission an official portrait of the President.
Former president Barack Obama has chosen the artist who will paint his portrait—Kehinde Wiley, a New York-based gay artist who is known for his twist on European style classical paintings featuring young black men and women.
Wiley has painted other famous faces like Ice T as Emperor Napoleon by David, and his work has been featured on Fox’s Empire. Michael Jackson even commissioned a portrait of himself, and VH1 ordered a series of rap stars.
He identifies as gay, but also clarifies that his sexuality isn’t so easy to define. “I’m a gay man who has occasionally drifted,” said Wiley. “I am not bi. I’ve had perfectly pleasant romances with women, but they weren’t sustainable. My passion wasn’t there. I would always be looking at guys.”
Wiley told BBC News in 2012 that Barack Obama being president of the United States “means that the image of power is completely new for an entire generation of not only black American kids, but every population group in this nation.”
“What I choose to do is to take people who happen to look like me — black and brown people all over the world, increasingly — and to allow them to occupy that field of power,” he told Christiane Amanpour in 2015.
Former first lady Michelle Obama chose Baltimore-based painter Amy Sherald to paint her portrait. Sherald won first place in the Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, becoming the first woman to do so.
The New York Times reports that the Obama portraits “will cost $500,000 (including the unveiling event and a reserve for future care).” About $300,000 has been raised so far. The portraits will be unveiled in early 2018.