Years of process led to modern White House portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Obama


Artist Robert McCurdy take high resolution photos He used it to paint the official portrait of President Barack Obama.He had some instructions.

“I’m not looking for a gesture moment,” McCurdy said in a recent interview with the White House Historical Society. “We are looking for more meditative or transcendent moments.”

A few years later, These instructions translated into a markedly different style of official painting of the president. announced on wednesday At the ceremony in the East Room, Obama’s portrait is a photorealistic photo of the former president set against a bright white background.

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 configuration.

“What I love about Robert’s work, for better or worse, is how he portrays people as they really are. He captures every wrinkle on your face, every wrinkle on your shirt.” Obama said at the ceremony Wednesday. I told him not to wear a suit.

“It feels like you’re forming a connection face-to-face,” Obama continued. In fact, they even occupy mythical status, and people forget all the things they don’t like about you.

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 sitters don’t say anything about what the painting looks like. They’re completely out of the process,” he said. “He was open to it and embracing the process, so he never saw the images we worked on.”

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. She didn’t contribute much beyond 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. Dressed, she sits on a couch in the White House Red Room, posing against a terracotta backdrop.

“Your work is astounding, but it’s your essence, your soul, the way you see me, the way we interact, and it shows in this beautiful work,” Michelle said. Obama said at the unveiling ceremony.

Paintings are historical in another sense. It captures the first black president and first lady.

“They look different.

When the Obamas chose artists for the early portraits in Washington’s National Portrait Gallery, they chose black painters Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherard.

The painters behind the official White House portraits are both established artists. Featuring hyper-realistic paintings set against white backgrounds, McCurdy has painted Jeff Bezos, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Jane Goodall, and more.

Spring had a long career in figurative painting, including paintings for Congress, and is associated with the White House portraits of the past. In her youth, she developed an artistic relationship with Aaron Her Shikler, who painted the iconic portrait of the White House. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan.

“I don’t want it to look like it was completed in 2013. I want it to look like it was done in this time and place,” Spring said in a video with the White House Historical Society.

The process of selecting artists, including in-person interviews in the Oval Office, began while the Obamas were still in the White House. Thelma Golden, director of her museum in Harlem and chief her curator, attended her Sprung interview with the couple.

Then-President Obama and McCurdy discussed the process of painting, including relinquishing control over the final product to the artist and the connection between the viewer and subject that he aims for in each painting.

“I think that candor really appealed to him,” McCurdy said.

During the Obamas’ time in the White House, when Spring visited the Oval Office to discuss portraits, she sent some preliminary paintings of the then First Lady to give the couple a sense of her direction. It was brought.

“He chose a couple that he liked and she chose a couple that she liked, but they were very different in vibe. They gave me,” Sprung said.

McCurdy begins the process by taking about 100 photos of the subject against a white background. After he selects only one to paint, the rest of the images are discarded and the 12-18 month paint-her process begins.

According to McCurdy, all Obama had to do was hold his mark and not move.

“He did a great job,” McCurdy said. He said the former president was “charming” and “very present”.

When Spring arrived at the White House for a meeting with Michelle Obama, she decided to leave her paint behind — “I didn’t want to leave my mark” — but instead took a picture of her, We chatted while the Obamas’ dogs barked on the lawn.

“We moved the furniture from the red room to the blue room because the lighting was good,” she explained in an interview with the White House Historical Society.

Spring is shorter than Michelle Obama. She realized that her original plan to paint a standing first lady, similar to the official portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan, was that she looked up to herself rather than her own level. sometimes changed.

“I was going to stand up to give her some kind of dignity, but she doesn’t need dignity. She’s very dignified and I decided to sit down and do it.” Spring said.

As McCurdy struggled with the Obama portrait, it became a challenge to keep the project completely under wraps. He doesn’t work with assistants, but has vowed to keep anyone who helps print photos or who happens to walk into his studio a secret.

He also had no additional meetings with the former president. Instead, over the course of the 18-month painting process, the subject became a project rather than a person.

“After a year, a year and a half, they become like objects in a way, like technical problems. “I don’t think you know,” he said.

For Spring, the portrait of Michelle Obama took eight months, the longest she worked on a single painting.

“I worked on it day and night, and I said good morning to her and good night,” she said. The most difficult detail is her dress, not her face or hands, or any part of her body.

McCurdy’s challenge was to create “I don’t have time” moments.

“There’s no before, no after. Like the bells keep ringing, as if the moment is forever. And it’s a way to keep the viewer trapped in the moment,” he said.


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