Fort Worth

Artist who wowed crowds in Fort Worth unveils the official White House portrait of Obama

"How 'bout that? That's pretty sharp," was former President Barack Obama's initial reaction to seeing his official White House portrait unveiled Monday morning at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

A former president having his portrait hung on the wall of the museum is almost a rite of passage, but for Kehinde Wiley, the artist hand-chosen by Obama, it was overwhelming.

"This is our humanity. This is our ability to say, 'I matter. I was here,'" said Wiley. "The ability to be the first African-American painter to paint the first African-American president of the United States is absolutely overwhelming."

While this might be one of the biggest moments of the Los Angles-born artist's almost 15-year career, it's hardly the first time he's been in the spotlight.

He has exhibited at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth twice in the past 10 years, including an exhibit that ran September 2015-January 2016. The lecture he gave as part of it was standing-room-only.

One of his pieces from the 2007-08 collection, a 122-by-122-inch oil-on-canvas portrait that is a New York City street-life twist on the "Equestrian Portrait of Charles V" by Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Géricault, sits in the museum's gallery today.

Although Wiley didn't frame Obama in the grandeur way iin which he has framed other subjects, Obama joked that he did offer to paint the portrait in that way.

"His initial impulse was to elevate me ... with partridges, scepters, thrones and chifferobes," said Obama. "And I had to explain that, 'I've got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon -- we've gotta bring it down just a touch.'"

Former first lady Michelle Obama also unveiled her portrait, painted by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald. Sherald, who is also African-American, is known for painting portraits that underscore themes of social justice. She often will paint an African-American with gray skin. It's her way of removing color from her subjects and "focusing more on things like shape and composition."

President Obama's portrait will hang on display in the hall of presidents, while the former first lady's portrait will be placed in another gallery. They will be open for public viewing starting Tuesday.

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