Portrait Artist Explains Why He Painted Obama In Front Of A Bush

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The artist who painted former President Barack Obama’s official portrait explained the rationale for his unique design in a speech Monday during the unveiling at the National Portrait Gallery.

Kehinde Wiley, a New York City-based artist, explained the deeper meaning behind the portrait of Obama sitting in front of a bush.

“In a very symbolic way what I’m doing is charting his path on Earth through those plants,” Wile said.

The painting also includes flowers in the bush, which hold specific meaning for significant places of the 44th president. The chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago, the jasmine is a nod to Hawaii, and the African blue lilies reference Obama’s father and family from Kenya, according to The Guardian.

“There’s a fight going on between he in the foreground and the plants that are trying to announce themselves underneath his feet. Who gets to be the star of the show? The story or the man who inhabits that story?” Wiley said.


The same artist also created two paintings depicting a black women beheading a white woman, a modern-day interpretation of the Judith and Holofernes tale.

The Portrait Gallery began the tradition of an official presidential portrait in 1994, with George H.W. Bush as the first subject. First ladies were added to the tradition in 2006, with Hillary Clinton as the first subject.

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