In 2007 artist Kehinde Wiley received voicemails saying that Michael Jackson was trying to reach him. “I ignored them because quite honestly I thought it was a prank” says Wiley. After some further research it turned out the calls were real. Michael Jackson was actually interested in a commissioned piece by Kehinde Wiley.
Wiley mixes images of classical royal portraiture
with images of contemporary black culture. In an interview with Anthem Magazine, Wiley described his style and subjects:
I try to recognize the sacred in the most common places; I just start with an African American community that I belong to. You know, much of what I do is I quote old paintings, and the old paintings are repopulated with young African American men who follow a very straight ahead demographic, between the ages of 18 and 25. It’s obviously a comment on youth culture and it’s a comment on consumption patterns, but it’s also a comment on who gets to be in those sort of important moments in picture making.
Jackson’s commissioned piece was still in early stages when Wiley learned about his death but chose to move forward with the piece to honor the King of Pop.
“The portrait is a compilation of six paintings, including works by David and Rubens. When asked why he felt obliged to complete the work, Wiley said: “Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much input as I would have hoped for, but I think it’s something he would have been proud of. Michael was an extraordinarily talented person with a team who could realize his ideas as much as his performances, and I think that his idea of collaborating with me was something that he really wanted to see through I felt a responsibility to him to get it done.”
Yesterday Deitch Projects, Wiley’s gallery, unveiled the Jackson commissioned piece at Art Basel Miami. It’s definitely one of the biggest pieces there and one of the most memorable for me. The Miami Herald even referred to it as the “King of Art Basel”