Kehinde Wiley: Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II

by Ariston Anderson


This year's Art Basel Miami Beach features myriad homages to the deceased King of Pop, including works by David LaChappelle, Jeff Sonhouse and Jonathan Monk. By far, the most powerful piece on display is a semi-commissioned work by renowned Brooklyn artist Kehinde Wiley at Deitch's booth. The massive Rubens-inspired oil, called "Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II," swaps out the Spanish monarch's face for Michael Jackson's. The story behind the 2009 painting is as legendary as any tale in Jackson's book.

As it goes, after seeing Wiley's work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Jackson contacted the artist for a commission. Jackson, who frequently had himself painted as a king made a natural match for Wiley's magical-realism depictions. After Jackson and Wiley spoke for nearly a half-an-hour over the phone in 2008 about the artistic vision behind the piece, they agreed that Wiley would photograph Jackson in an Old Masters pose. Thoroughly impressed with Jackson's knowledge of the painting process, Wiley sent Jackson a set of reference images but then stopped hearing from him and was unable to contact him after Jackson changed his hotel several times.

Following the star's death, Wiley decided to complete the piece, a large royal sprawl as majestic as the King's work himself. Choosing to paint Jackson at the peak of his career, the images shows a figure comfortable in his own body, confident behind a wall of armor atop a bowing horse. With bold blues and reds, and surrounded by heavenly cherubs, it's a portrait that would have made the King of Pop proud. Miami visitors, this is a must-see before it falls to the home of a private collector.

Click through to see an image of Rubens' original.