"Kehinde Wiley The World Stage: Israel" is presented at the Contemporary Jewish Museum through May 27. The show is the first major exhibition in San Francisco which features the nationally noted African American artist who now divides his time between New York and Beijing, China.
There are 18 large portraits in the show. Wiley has depicted men aged 18 to 25 whom he met in Israel. He included Ethiopian Jews and Jewish and Arab Israelis, placing them against ornate backgrounds in vivid colors.
Wiley, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles, became intrigued by classical European portraiture he found in the galleries of the Huntington Library, where he took art classes when he was just 11.
He earned his B.F.A. in 1999 from the San Francisco Art Institute, followed by an M.F.A. from Yale University in 2001. After his university training he became an Artist-in-Residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem, N.Y.
He came across a cast-off mug shot of a young African American man which started his deep thinking about portraiture. He had enjoyed 18th century works he had seen when a youngster and now started to think of these current men in a different way. In 2003 he began to exhibit a series of portraits of young men in Harlem who were staged in the grand style of the European portrait tradition but wearing their current baggy jeans and T-shirts.
In 2006 Wiley expanded his vision with the series "The World Stage," which took him to various points around the world to explore the black diaspora and the global phenomenon of urban African American youth culture. He traveled to China, India, Brazil, Senegal, Nigeria and Israel.
Wiley notes, "A lot of my work quotes art history, such as the papercut tradition, an intimate aesthetic, the personal."
One of his big tools has to do with scale. He wanted to create works that recalled "the way powerful men were portraying themselves in the Louvre."
The CJM exhibit features large paintings of subjects Wiley met in various discos, malls, bars and other venues in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Lod, Israel. In his paintings he has placed his subjects against ornate backgrounds inspired by Jewish textiles and papercuts. Wiley designed hand-carved wooden frames topped with emblems he borrowed from the Jewish decorative tradition, like the Lion of Judah.
Related programming in conjunction with the CJM exhibition includes "Conversations with Artists: Francesco Spagnolo on Traditional Judaica and the Art of Kehinde Wiley" from 1 to 2:30 p.m. March 8, which is free with museum admission. Spagnolo will talk with CJM's Writer in Residence Daniel Schifrin about the historical papercuts and textiles which inspired the backgrounds in Wiley's paintings.
Family and teen events include "Drop-In Art Making: Papercuts and Portraits" from 1 to 3 p.m. March 3, 10 and 17, which combine paper-cutting and textured painting to create your own work of art. There also will be "Drop-In Art-Making: Passover Freedom Papercuts and Portraits" from 1 to 3 p.m. on March 24 and 31, again free with Museum admission. Attendees can explore symbols of Passover, freedom and spring while using paper-cutting and textured painting to embellish portraits of freedom heroes.
The CJM is at 736 Mission St., San Francisco. It is open daily (except Wednesdays) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 1 to 8 p.m. Thursdays. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for students and senior citizens with a valid ID. Admission is free for youth 18 and younger. Call 415-655-7800 or visit www.thecjm.org.
Mea culpa! I'm so sorry. I put the incorrect city for The Coastside Land Trust Gallery last week. Its Midwinter Art Show is on view through April 12 at 788 Main St., Half Moon Bay.
Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays, or by appointment by calling 650-726-5056. Visit www.coastsidelandtrust.org.
An oil painting demonstration by sports and animal lover Tom Chapman will be given at Saturday's meeting of the Society of Western Artists (SWA). The meeting begins at 1 p.m. at the SWA Center, 2625 Broadway, Redwood City. There is no charge and members of the public are welcome. Call Judith Puccini at 650-737-6084.
Information on visual and literary arts can be sent to Bonny Zanardi at Bzanardi@aol.com.