Barack and Michelle Obama's official portraits unveiled

Former President Barack Obama right and artist Kehinde Wiley left unveil the Obamas’ official portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait in Washington

In aesthetics, if not always in politics, the Obamas presented a bright and lovely contrast to the stately whiteness of the highest office of our country, and the portraits presented Monday by the National Portrait Gallery capture their joint vivacity.

The paintings were revealed Monday at the gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian group of museums.

Kennicott: I think it does look like Mrs. Obama, though the rendering is not quite as photographically precise as Kehinde Wiley's painting of the former President.

They are stunning works unlike any other presidential portrait.

"Very quickly we arrived at the notion: As opposed to creating a type of echo of historical precedence, we should try to clear the table", Wiley says, and "start at ground level to create something that hasn't been seen before".

Her work focuses on African-American subjects, often painted against brilliantly colored backgrounds, and sometimes holding an object (an oversized coffee cup, or a bunch of balloons) that gives the image a sense of the surreal.

Although Wiley's aesthetic style is hyperrealistic, he, like Sherald, doesn't depict his subjects as they are in real life.

The Obama's portraits will hang in the gallery, which has been gathering presidential portraits for 50 years, said David Skorton, the 13th secretary of the Smithsonian.

However, the Obamas are an unprecedented couple and they continue to break new ground in terms of representation and whom they entrust to represent them. "And so she sits symbolically in the world in the same way I want my images to sit".

Sherald thanked her subject and explained the way she transforms her portraits of American people from individual subjects into archetypes. "So, I had to just come see it in person", Dominic Jones told WUSA9. Even though he himself is "not fly", and they lacked that "sista-girl thing", he said, perhaps he and Wiley connected so well because they were both the sons of American mothers and absent African fathers.

Controversy surrounding Kehinde Wiley's wildly non-traditional portrait of the Commander-in-Chief broke out within minutes of its unveiling; with industry insiders claiming the artist secretly inserted his trademark technique-concealing images of sperm within his paintings.

Throughout her eight years in the White House, designers like Derek Lam, Zac Posen, and Prabal Garung have enjoyed the distinct sartorial honor of dressing Michelle Obama.

In 2009, Michael Jackson commissioned a portrait, which wasn't painted until after the king of pop passed.

The result is a work that embraces Obama's own personal story. "What did they say?" she asked to no one. It's true that the two look similar aesthetically, but it's far more likely that Beyoncé was influenced by Wiley's work, not the other way around. She's not centered in her painting, but rising above the center.

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