Barack and Michelle Obama returned to the spotlight Monday morning to unveil their official portraits.
At the end of each presidency, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery partners with the White House to commission a portrait of the President and his spouse.
The Obamas were a transformational force, not only because of the former president’s policies, which prioritized health care, the environment, and the economy but also because of what it meant to see a Black couple at the helm of the most powerful country in the world. True to form, the Obamas choose a pair of unconventional artists to paint their official paintings.
After interviewing multiple artists, Mrs. Obama settled on Baltimore-based painter Amy Sherald.
“She walked in and she was fly and poised, and she had this lightness and freshness of personality,” Mrs. Obama said. “There was an instant connection, a kind of sister girl connection that I had with [Amy].”
The artist stayed true to her signature style of using solid colors and grey for her skin tone, and the former first lady said she was “overwhelmed” by the honor.
Former President Obama chose famed artist Kehinde Wiley to paint his portrait, though he joked with the crowd that “Kehinde was at a disadvantage because I’m less becoming [and] not as fly” as his wife.
Wiley, known for his colorful, intricate designs which reimagine Victorian-era portraits with modern subjects, said he chose flowers from Chicago, Kenya and Hawaii to “chart [Obama’s] path on earth through these plants.”
Sherald and Wiley are the first Black artists to paint an official presidential portrait. Both paintings will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.