Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Some thoughts on Michelle's portrait

Apparently a lot of people don't like the Michelle Obama portrait. They say it seems flattened, that it doesn't reflect her vibrancy, that it looks more like her younger daughter Sasha than it looks like her. They argue with the proportion of her arm, the grey tones of her skin, and other choices that the commissioned artist Amy Sherald made. I confess when I first saw the painting on my TV screen, I, too, was underwhelmed, though I immediately loved the flow of her garment, and its subtle sartorial nod to the quilts once hung on Southern clotheslines as secret messages to guide blacks fleeing slavery via the Underground Railroad.


I was in my kitchen making coffee with the TV on when I looked up and there were Barack and Michelle, such a welcome sight, lightly humorous and warm as they introduced the artists they'd chosen to immortalize them in the National Portrait Gallery. My husband was home from work for Lincoln's birthday—it's only now occurred to me that they chose this date to unveil the paintings. When I saw the black cloth fall from Michelle's portrait, I said, "Doesn't look like her." Then the camera zoomed in on her face. "Okay, I see her now," I said.

The more I looked at the painting, the more I began to appreciate it for itself, one artist's vision, and then to love it. Michelle is obviously very happy with it, and that counts with me. She very clearly enjoyed the collaboration with the artist, and her signature painting style. Sherald apparently paints skin in shades of gray as a rejection of the idea of race as a social construct. After interviewing several artists, this is who the First Lady chose to commemorate her time in office. And I'm okay with that. Most of all, I love that she introduced America to an artist we might otherwise never know, a woman who is extraordinarily talented and deeply passionate. Here are some of her other pieces. I love them, too.










11 comments:

  1. Such beautiful works of art, expressing things in color and design we often miss on first sight. Thank you for this.

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  2. Both paintings are remarkable both artists visionary. I think Kehinde Wiley's portrait is so vivid and bright that Amy Sherald's softer muted palette needs to be viewed separately to really shine. God I miss them both. Love.

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  3. I love both of them. The paintings and people.

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  4. Thank you for posting more of the artist's work, I LOVE this work and that painting of Michelle. Not sure why but they make me weepy, in a good way.

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  5. I've read up on the dress a bit. It is a rendition of a gown made by Michelle Smith, Co Founder and Creative Director for "Milly", a fashion house in NY, for the Spring 2017 collection and may have been made specifically for this portrait. (that's how long it would have taken for approval and then the creation of the painting) Ms Sherald is a long time supporter of American fashion design. Note her own dress in the above picture, fabulous.
    I think it is a perfect choice for Mrs. Obama and I love your interpretation of the quilts. I love the painting. She looks strong and the essence of dignified.

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  6. Thank you for posting these other paintings. I love this artist, love her work, love the portrait of Michelle Obama. I did the moment I laid eyes on it.

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  7. That is a very good point -- we're seeing a painting that reflects the artist's vision, not a photo-realistic image of Michelle Obama. Having said that, I like the other paintings you posted here even more. They seem to have an additional depth and vibrance that I don't see in the Michelle portrait. It's hard to say, though, since I'm not seeing any of them in person. I guess the key is that Michelle is happy with it, and I agree that introducing the world to a capable, gifted artist is a major plus.

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  8. I've had to take a few days to look and look and look again, at both portraits, before making any comment, but I've gotten comfortable with the interpretations now and find them quite striking. All the discussion makes me glad I am not the artist doing a monumental job like this - what if I finished and wasn't happy with my OWN work?? What then?? Gah! Back to the topic - like you, I couldn't see Michelle in her portrait from a distance. But up close the likeness is there.

    And as Steve has said, I love the artist's other work that you have posted here - such rich colours.

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  9. All we hear is Trump , Trump , Trump over here .It's lovely that you show us the sanity and grace that is also America .xx

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