The official portraits of former US president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama have been unveiled, with both paintings the work of African-American artists personally chosen by the Obamas.
The former first couple’s portraits were unveiled to the public at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington on Monday, where the couple made a rare return to the public spotlight.
Mr Obama’s portrait was painted by Kehinde Wiley, an artist best known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings of African-Americans, while Mrs Obama’s portrait was painted by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, first-prize winner of the Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.
The paintings mark the gallery’s first ever commissions of official portraits by African American artists.
“How about that? That’s pretty sharp,” the 44th president said as he took to the podium after the unveiling.
The portraits depicts Mr Obama wearing a black suit and sitting in a chair against a backdrop of green foliage.
Mr Wiley said the painting contained three distinctive flowers; a chrysanthemum, the official flower of Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago, a flower representing Hawaii, Mr Obama’s birthplace, and another flower pointing toward Kenya, where Obama’s father was born.
“I tried to negotiate less gray hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow (him) to do what I asked,” he joked.
“I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well.”
Meanwhile, Mrs Obama said she was “a little overwhelmed to say the least,” after her painting was unveiled.
The former president praised Ms Sherald for capturing the “charm and hotness of the woman that I love.”
He also gave a “special shoutout to my man Joe Biden — and an even more special shout-out to my mother-in-law, who in addition to providing the hotness genes, also has been such an extraordinary rock and foundation stone for our family.”
“We are so grateful to her and we love her so much,” he added.
Dozens of friends and supporters, including former Attorney General Eric Holder and senior adviser David Axelrod, gathered in the atrium of the gallery for the ceremony, along with Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, and Gayle King.
The portraits will be officially installed and available for public viewing starting on February 13 (US time).
– with wires