When artist Robert McCurdy was taking the high-resolution photos he used to paint the official portrait of President Barack Obama, he had a few instructions: Stop smiling or gesticulating and look directly at the camera. .
‘I’m not looking for a gesture moment,’ said McCurdy said in an interview Most recently, he worked with the White House Historical Society to acquire and fund official portraits of the President and First Lady. “We are looking for more meditative or transcendent moments.”
Years later, those instructions translated into a markedly different style for the president’s official painting.The portrait of Obama, scheduled to be unveiled at a ceremony in the East Room on Wednesday, stands against a plain white background. It’s like a photo of a former president that looks like a real photo.
Dressed in a black suit, white shirt, light gray tie, and hands in his pockets, Mr. Obama stares at the viewer from the canvas with an enigmatic expression. Nothing else disturbs the white background.
According to the artist, after the first photo painted by McCurdy was taken, the former president had no say in the final portrait.
“It’s part of my process that the sitter doesn’t say anything about what the painting looks like. They’re completely out of the process,” he said. , I had embraced that process and never saw the images we worked with.”
Former First Lady Michelle Obama was likewise handed her final portrait after posing for a photo with her portraitist and New York-based artist Sharon Sprung at the White House.
“I felt that this trust came from her. You do yours and I do mine. I trust you. Portraits sometimes work that way. I think she doesn’t contribute much to anything else than presenting herself,” Spring told the Historical Society.
Like her husband, Michelle Obama’s portrait is painted in a distinctive style that breaks the mold of the more traditional portraits that hang in the White House. She sits on a sofa in the House’s Red Room, posing against a terracotta backdrop. Like the former president, she stares directly at the viewer from the frame.
Paintings are historical in another sense. It captures the first black president and first lady.
“They certainly look different, but I don’t think I need to explain it to people. I think people seem to understand that,” McCurdy said.
When the Obamas chose artists for the early portraits in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, they chose black painters who were still emerging in the field at the time.
Read more about portraits here.