Something about the portraits of former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama has caught the country’s collective eye.
The New York Times noted the heightened attention for the recently unveiled portraits, which will hang in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
“No one has ever paid attention to [presidential portraits] before; how about that?” Chattanooga artist Kevin Bate said. “I think that’s something not to be overlooked.”
Bate—who has work displayed all around Chattanooga—said that understanding the artists who created the paintings, as well as the details in the paintings, can be key to appreciating them.
Artist Kehinde Wiley created the former president’s painting, in which he’s sitting against a backdrop of lush-looking greenery that’s dotted with colored flowers, which represent different parts of his past. His eyes are set on the observer. His collar is open. He’s not wearing a tie, but he is wearing a Rolex.
Artist Amy Sherald created Michelle Obama’s portrait, which is more muted than her husband’s painting. Her strong arms, which attracted attention during her time as first lady, are on display. The dress she’s wearing has symbolic meaning.
Initially, when Bate saw Michelle Obama’s painting, he thought it seemed flat. But as he and fellow artists discussed it, he learned that’s part of Sherald’s style. That changed his impression a bit, he said, although he still likes Barack Obama’s better.
“I like to hide stuff in my paintings, so I like that there’s meaning there,” he said of the symbolic flowers in Barack Obama’s portrait. “He was a new kind of president. This is a new kind of portrait.”
Check out what a couple of other local residents said about the portraits below, and click here to read more analysis from Time.com.
I like them. They are art, not just staid images in oil instead of print. Iconoclastic and iconic at the same time. Great stuff.
— Grackle & Oak (@GrackleOak) February 13, 2018
I like that they didn't try to fit in with the previous style. They did the portraits on their own terms
— Meghan O'Dea (@emmieodea) February 13, 2018