At the Kehinde Wiley exhibit, Brooklyn Museum, April 2015.
At the end of last April, I saw the Kehinde Wiley exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Wiley is best known for his portraits of everyday Black men in heroic poses that are often based on old master paintings.
The exhibit was breathtaking, and the experience of walking into the first gallery of the show is something I will never forget. Mad props to the Brooklyn Museum for creating the most moving and dramatic entrance into a show that I have ever encountered. A lot of the paintings in this show were huge–up to 96″ x 72″ and even larger; and they were beautiful, every single one.
As much as I loved the paintings, I loved seeing the Black men at the show even more. Their expressions ranged from amused to rapt to proud, and I wondered what it must have felt like to walk through an entire exhibition of works celebrating their beauty and power.
Several of the drawings in this part of the 1001 Black Men series are the result of me looking at real-life Black men looking at Wiley’s paintings of Black men. The background of each of these drawings evokes the richly patterned backgrounds for which the artist is known.
I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1999. I moved here because of a job, but I stay for the weather. In this part of the country, it never gets colder than about 45 °F, and that’s usually in the winter months. Imagine my surprise when, on our first night in Brooklyn, the temperature dropped to 34. It was near the end of April, and it never occurred to us to bring gloves or scarves or heavy coats. I don’t even own a winter coat anymore, and the 15 block walk down Court Street, from Caputo’s Bakery to our hotel, constituted the coldest 20 minutes I’ve experienced in a very long time. The man in this drawing was one of several locals we passed on the way, and his knit cap and down jacket reminded me that once, many years ago, I too knew how to dress properly for winter weather.
I ran into this guy at a Duane Reade drugstore, right around the corner from the Brooklyn Historical Society. He wanted to know why I was carrying a file box. He asked, “What you got in that box?” I told him I had lots of pens and pencils and a few notebooks. He seemed a little disappointed. I wish I’d made up a more exciting response. Perhaps I could have told him I was carrying nuclear waste or a shrunken head or some evidence of alien life.
Next time, I’ll be ready.