April 7, 2008

Hip Hop Aesthetic

The National Portrait Gallery presents “Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture”, a new exhibition that demonstrates the influence of hip hop on portrait artists working today. The artists included here work in a variety of different media each expanding the idea of what a portrait is. There are large scale paintings by Kehinde Wiley, black and white photographs by David Scheinbaum, self portrait videos by Jefferson Pinder, a poem by Nikki Giovanni, an art installation by Shinique Smith and four twenty-foot-long graffiti murals by Tim Conlon and Dave Hupp.

Since its birth in the late 1970’s, hip hop culture, which includes rap music, break dancing, urban graffiti, and street fashion, has become a dominant influence in mainstream America. While images of hip hop performers are as pervasive in our culture as the music itself, these six artists and one poet have created powerful images that both celebrate and explore the complexity of this creative form.

Kehinde Wiley has created portraits of hip hop artists such as LL cool J and Ice T, each strongly influenced by famous European or American paintings from the 17th through the 19th century. His larger than life, richly hued paintings feature the vibrant patterned backdrop that is characteristic of Wiley’s paintings. They both celebrate the history of portraiture, and pay homage to hip hop pioneers.

Santa-Fe based David Scheinbaum has been photographing hip hop artists and performances since 2000. He has twenty six black and white photographs represented in the exhibition most taken between 2002 and 2005 in either Albuquerque, New Mexico or Los Angeles, California. The subjects of these portraits showcase one of hip hops most significant characteristics: the relationship between the artist and their audience.

Painter and mixed media artist Jefferson Pinder was educated and teaches at the University of Maryland. He has created three video self portraits, including Mule, in which Pinder literally drags the weight of his daily struggles behind him.

Baltimore born, Brooklyn based painter Shinique Smith’s offers an artistic interpretation of Nikki Giovanni’s poem It’s Not a Just Situation: Though We Just Can’t Keep Crying About It (For the Hip Hop Nation That Brings Us Such Exciting Art). Her mixed media installation is an explosive composition including found objects, abstract calligraphy and images of hip hop’s most influential and, in this case, dearly departed artists.

Tom Conlon and Dave Hupp pay homage to the opulent murals and tags that are hip hop culture’s most celebrated art form. Tom “Con” Conlon, of Washington D.C. and Dave “Arek” Hupp from Baltimore have created four portrait murals that depict the traditional style of graffiti from its roots in 1970’s New York City, when distorted letters and bright colors dominated.

Keeping things fresh and new, The National Portrait Gallery’s Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture” is on display through October. 26. The National Portrait Gallery is located at 8th and F streets, NW, and is open from 11:30-7 pm daily. This exhibition is definitely worth checking.

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