The Saint Andrew painting by Kehinde Wiley is a painting on oil and enamel canvas and depicts a young black man straddling on a cross. The young man is wearing a baseball hat with his head tilted to the left-hand side to reveal a white earing. He is wearing a blue watch on his left wrist, has a buggy red t-shirt, blue jeans and white sports shoes, probably sneakers.
The gaze in the young man’s eyes portrays contentment and seduction. The queer look shows something is going on in the man’s mind more than the gaze. The background of the painting is a green brocade style, which represents nature. Kehinde Wiley uses a contextual approach in Saint Andrew’s (2006) painting to portray young black men carried away by contemporary streetwear and homosexuality.
The context of Saint Andrew painting is the contemporary streetwear culture for young men. The name of the art, “Saint Andrew,” depicts one of Jesus Christ’s disciples, Andrew, who was crucified for refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus. Kehinde portrays a young man straddling on a wooden cross, which will be used to crucify him (Prater 46). The young man is wearing a baseball hat with his head tilted sideways to reveal a white earing. The painting shows today’s young man who wears earrings. Critics of putting on ornaments argue that it shows someone is gay. Therefore, Kehinde communicates the controversial subject of homosexuality in society.
Saint Andrew (2006) sexualizes young black men, who have been side-lined at the expense of women. History and advertising are replete with sexualizing the female body, whereby the women are depicted as an object of desire for men. For example, women are represented in a manner that satisfies men, which is referred to as the male gaze. However, Kehinde has revolutionized the art to include the female gaze, whereby the male body is depicted as an object of desire. In the painting, the young black man has a queer look, a face searching for love. Kehinde’s shows that young black men can also be objects of desire for women.
The painting shows that young men straddle on a culture that will destroy them in the future. The young man straddles on a cross, which in history was used to crucify people who refused to renounce their faith. For example, Jesus Christ was crucified for declaring himself the Son of God. Also, Saint Andrew, as the name of Kehinde’s painting suggests, was killed for refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the art shows that society will crucify young black men for refusing to renounce their faith. In this context, the young black man’s faith is popular culture. Today, American prisons have a disproportionate number of Black inmates, which shows there is a problem in the African-American community. The young man’s lifestyle has made him the target of drug dealers and other criminal behavior. However, as Kehinde depicts in the painting, it is the culture of the young man who will crucify him.
Kehinde’s painting counter-attacks the press and mainstream media’s idea to vilify young black men. The young black straddling on the cross pursues his happiness, which does not interfere with someone’s else pursuit of happiness. Studies show that the police are more likely to shoot a black man that a white man. Kehinde’s painting criticizes the stereotypes against the black man and portrays him as both powerful and gentle.
The art is consistent with the Black Lives Matter movement, which advocated for the rights of African-Americans. Reports show that black men were at a higher risk of being shot than white men. After the release of the Black Lives Matter Movement, people opposed to the movement created the All Lives Matter hashtag. The critics of the Black Lives Matter movement argued that all races face danger, and singling out one race is inappropriate.
However, the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement defended the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that there is a problem in the African-American communities, which is absent in other communities (Chama 202). Kehinde’s St. Andrew painting celebrates young black men who straddle their culture. However, in as much as Kehinde portrays the black man as both powerful and an object of desire, the painting cautions young black men against treading a path that will destroy them. For example, the young man in the art straddles on a cross, which passes between his legs.
The painting is replete with sexual messages hidden in the art. For example, the picture shows a young man grinding his crotch on the cross. His eyes depict pleasure, which shows he is enjoying the grind. Kehinde turned revolutionized the art by replacing women with men. It is common to see a piece of art showing a stripper climbing a pole.
However, Kehinde’s painting depicts a young man with a cross between his crotch. Undoubtedly, the artwork shows the contemporary homosexual culture, which has received mixed reactions. While some people find homosexuality offensive, others state that it is a culture that should be embraced. Kehinde does not shy away from depicting homosexuality in the painting. Today, most of the young black men who open up about their homosexuality are excommunicated by their families and friends. Kehinde’s unapologetic style sends a message that homosexuals also need love like other people.
Furthermore, the painting shows free-floating spermatozoa in the background. The spermatozoa depict the young man as powerful. Painting young men in a sexualized manner have led to criticisms against Kehinde’s art. The critics argue that Kehinde is predatory due to his overt use of sexualized cues in the paintings. For example, a young man grinding his crotch on the wooden cross, a queer gaze, and an earring. The critics have argued that Kehinde’s painting reduces the African-American body to an object of desire and sex.
All in all, Saint Andrew (2006) painting depicts young black men treading a path that will destroy them. The society associates contemporary streetwear with homosexuality. The young man puts on earrings and grinds his crotch against a wooden cross. The background shows spermatozoa, showing the power of black men. The cross symbolizes a path that will destroy the young men if they do not change. Despite the dangers of treading their way, the painting shows bravery and passion in the young man’s eyes. Kehinde celebrates black people’s culture of embracing themselves and remaining true to themselves despite societal pressures to conform to traditional values.
Chama, Brian. “The Black Lives Matter Movement, Crime and Police Brutality: Comparative Study of New York Post and New York Daily News.” European Journal of American Culture, vol. 38, no. 3, Sept. 2019, pp. 201–216. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1386/ejac_00002_1.
“De(i)Fying the Masters.” Art in America, vol. 93, no. 4, Apr. 2005, pp. 120–125.
Prater, Paige, and Rachel May Smith. “Seeing Double: Kehinde Wiley’s Portraits.” Art Education, vol. 68, no. 6, Nov. 2015, pp. 46–53. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00043125.2015.11519347.
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