Painting the Streets: Style in the artwork of Kehinde Wiley and Barkley L. Hendricks

I first found out about Kehinde Wiley at Native Star, a blog I follow for it’s deep, critical-race-feminist analysis of pop-culture and society.  (Also, E. Starbright Bilyck, the blogs proprietor, is the hot girl from Distortion 2 Static, a local hip-hop tv show. Brainz and Beauty!! Yussss.)

What I love about Wiley’s work is the same thing most people love about it: he uses classic elements of portraiture associated with stuffy old white master painters to paint pictures of young urban black men.  More personally though, Kehinde portrays young black men the way I see them — as a non-monolithic group of people with individual style who have all had to become heroes in some way due to society’s constant quest to destroy them. With the incessant daily main-stream media barrage of images of young black men as monster criminals, it kind of overwhelms my heart with joy to have such a successful, prolific artist putting images like this into the world.

The young men Kehinde paints represent a variety of style choices which are commonly associated with a hip-hop influence — because anything black people wear is associated with hip-hop whether the style originates in hip-hop culture or not — which is annoying — but that are sometimes also influenced by a variety of other sub-cultures, including skateboarding and Cholos.

Without further ado:

While I recognize the difference between homosocial and homosexual, I like to think of this picture as gay.  I feel like dude on the right is thinking, “Yeah I’m a homo. Say Somethin! I dare you.” And dude on the left is like, “What he said.”

This style is SOOOOO LA!! Up to the top button! I bet you anything he is wearing Carharts and chucks with that. Anything!

This dude is wearing one of the brightly colored hoodies popularized by the hyphy movement which was invented right here in the Bay Area.

RIP Biggie.  I love that he is the only actual hip-hop artist in this group of portraits and he is wearing an outfit inspired by an era in which hip-hop wasn’t even a twinkle in disco’s eye, and disco wasn’t even a twinkle in R&B’s eye. That there is a straight up Al Capone  prohibition gangster suit!

The ones with the gorgeous bright fruits and flowers really get me.  I feel like Wiley and his subjects are saying something about masculinity, particularly raced masculinity here.  Something like “We are gorgeous as peonies and soft and sweet as ripe stone fruit and this outfit and this stance don’t change any of that and being a black man does not mean what you think it means, or at the very least it doesn’t have to.”

This is my favorite outfit of all. I love a dull neutral paired with bright bright nearly-neons.  I also love the silhouette of a narrow cut hoodie with skinny jeans and big puffy loose-laced sneakers.  It reminds me of images of space men in tight suits with big boots, and I like to think of the city as a space-scape and myself as a space-man sometimes, and this is the exact outfit for it. Those pants are the color of moon dust and also wet-cement sidewalk.


This last portrait is from Wiley’s most recent show, which is portraits of men in India and Sri-Lanka. It’s amazing how different these portraits are from the portraits of American men, and also how much the same.  And it’s really inspiring to watch an artist really delve into a new subject — how many people out of fear of the unfamiliar or lack of inspiration never get past their first obsessions? Too many!

Speaking of urban black people and style and painters… Barkley L. Hendricks is a genius!  I found out about him from the lovely Carolyn Richardson, who made me the sweetest hand-made Christmas card using images from the catalog for his exhibition Birth of the Cool: paintings 1964 -2007,  which is at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston from Jan 30 – April 18th for all you lucky Texans. First of all, here is his self portrait:

So much style!! The skin-tight jeans with the giant crisp white pointy collar and weird 80s Levar Burton Star-Trek sunglasses?! And don’t think I didn’t notice the watch. Don’t you love him before you even see all this?:

High Waisted Wide-Leg Pants!!! **Swoon** I’m pretty sure that chick on the left is gay. And I’m definitely sure that If I get a time machine and travel back to the late 70s (Which is totally going to happen btw. I’m going to get a Mustang II and turn it into a time machine and then go back to the time of the best clothes and best cars ever) that I will look this woman up and go on a date with her.

The two pics above are my mini-entry for the IBC meme “You’ll never be this cool.” (Regular-size entry coming soon btw).

I have a photograph of my dad and brother from the late seventies that I wish was not in storage so that you could also marvel at the uncanny resemblance between it and this painting. Only my dad’s three-piece polyester was maroon and he was wearing a hat. With a feather in it. No one will ever be as cool as my dad.

Another myth destroyed! Black people swim. Oh and when I go back in my Mustang II time-machine to get a date with wide-leg pants girl, I am also getting this guy to freeze me some gametes.

I want her shoes!!

This last one takes me back to Wiley’s work, since Hendricks is borrowing from an old tradition (Byzantine painting) to present a modern subject.  I love that personal style of the subject is such a central element in the work of both Wiley and Hendricks, a fact which has the amazing of added benefit of leaving the rest of us with fine-art examples of contemporary street-style for as long as the paintings endure.

Bonus: If you like this post, you might LOVE the tumblr blog Black Fashion.

Love Always,



About Carrie Leilam Love

i love words, babies, and shoes better than everything.


  1. blevit

    I love Wiley! I stumbled across his work a while back and was blown away. So beautiful.
    Hendricks is new to me—thanks for sharing!

  2. Michael von Braithwaite

    Amazing! His color palates could have me staring at his work for hours and hours. So layered! And the juxtaposition of flowery Victorian and turn of the century motifs with one subset of contemporary masculinity is FASCINATING.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Painting the Streets: Style in the artwork of Kehinde Wiley and Barkley L. Hendricks « Ironing Board Collective --

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