The US artist on being the first African American to paint the presidential portrait, Michael Jackson's surprising art knowledge and the inspiration of lovers
Born in Los Angeles in 1977, Kehinde Wiley is best known for his large-scale portraits in which black people occupy scenes from notable old European paintings. Most of his models are cast on the street, though Wiley has also portrayed celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Ice-T. Earlier this year, he was chosen to paint Barack Obama's official portrait for the Smithsonian, to be unveiled next year. His new show, In Search of the Miraculous, is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, London W1, until 27 January.
Tell me about the show.
It's definitely a departure from what I've done in the past. I'm looking at the history of maritime painting, so water is one of the key figures in the work. Depicting the ocean has always, in the west, been about voyage, about conquest, but this show is also about migration, madness and displacement. In a sense, it's about America and where she is right now.