The National Portrait Gallery on Monday unveiled portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, both of whom selected acclaimed African-American artists to portray them.
“Pretty sharp!” Barack Obama quipped of his portrait, painted by Kehinde Wiley — an artist best known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings of African-Americans. The former president also joked about how he had to negotiate to reduce the number of grays hairs and make his ears look smaller in the painting
Obama also thanked Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, who painted his wife, for capturing her “grace, and beauty, and intelligence, and charm and hotness.”
Sherald and Wiley are the first African-American artists to create Smithsonian-commissioned portraits of a former president and first lady. And their subjects make history once more, as the first black presidential spouses to be immortalized in the gallery.
“The ability to be first African-American painter to paint the first African-American president … it doesn’t get any better than that,” Wiley said during his remarks.
Both artists tackle race and identity in their work and wanted to bring a different interpretation of presidential portraits, according to The Smithsonian Magazine.