At Stephen Friedman Gallery, Wiley will continue his vast and celebrated body of work entitled ‘The World Stage’. The exhibition features Jamaican men and women assuming poses taken from 17th and 18th Century British portraiture. This juxtaposition between the sitter and the art historical references reflects on the relationship between the island and her former colonial power. Wiley is restaging this history, transforming the race and gender of the traditional art-historical hero to reflect the contemporary urban environment. The subjects’ proud posturing refers to both the source painting and the symbolism of Jamaican culture, with its singular people and specific ideals of youth, beauty and style. ‘The World Stage’ series has previously focused on Brazil, China, Israel, Nigeria, Senegal and Sri Lanka, with exhibitions held in museums and galleries in Europe and the USA.
Wiley embellishes his paintings with intricate, ornate backgrounds that contradict the sombre posturing of the subjects and allude to the bold styles of urban fashion. Pieces of these symbolic patterns overlay and entwine the figure, both harmoniously fusing and creating opposition between the two contrasting elements that form the work. In previous series, this decoration has been inspired by a fusion of period styles, ranging from Islamic architecture to Dutch wax printed textile and French Rococo design. In this new body of work, lavish patterning informed by the British textile designer William Morris surrounds the figures.
For this project Wiley renders his subjects in exquisite detail, capturing a pose, a history and a culture. Jamaica is filtered through aspects of British history to create something wholly unique; disparate iconography, such as a contemporary tattoo and a William Morris wallpaper design, merge together to form equal parts of the narrative. The artist continues to redefine portraiture, cementing his status as one of the leading painters working today.