Opinion: Michelle Obama Portrait

Detail from Amy Sherald's Michelle Obama, 2018
Detail from Quora.com image of Michelle Obama
First of all if you are not acquainted with  Amy Sherald's portraits; do your self a favor and visit her website.

So the Michelle portrait: do you love it or hate it or fall in between? I am in between but as I admire Michelle Obama as a person, I also admire Sherald's portrait of Michelle Obama. 

Sherald's portraits and figure are wonderfully imagined lifescapes. Faces rendered with  photo realistic monochromatic sensitivity placed in the context of  beautiful colors, clothing and props. The subject is never named. However titles are given about each person's being. The title serves to question (HangMan), describe  (The Boy With No Past) or make observatons ( What's different About Alice Is that She has the most incisive Way of Telling the Truth). The images are at times comforting and at times subtlety disturbing. However they are always colorful, wonderful and engaging.

 Michell Obama's portrait is all that but also a departure for Sherald. While her subjects, to date, have been anonymous  Michell Obama is iconic. So apart from the masterful composition, the symbolic dress and the seated posture we can't help but look at her facial features. 

As a painter who uses and loves bold colors the choice of the Wedgewood like neutral blue feels too cool in which to place the monochromatic face. So be it. It's not my choice (I'd go yellow).It's not awful, not great..in between. 

While the figure captures everything Michelle, her facial features are not recognizable to me as "Michelle". The features were minimized. Eyes too far apart, distance between the bottom lip and the chin too far and eyebrows shrunk. Gone are the big eyes, lips and beautifully strong nose. The hairline/forhead has been softened into and oval, where it is more familiar as angular. She is barley recognizable as the Michelle Obama we recognize.

They say every painter paints themselves into a portrait and perhaps that is the case here. I wish Sherald would have taken another pass at the eyes. Alas, even if the portrait is not quite Michelle, like all great portraits through time, Michelle will be the portrait. 


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