President Obama’s new Smithsonian portrait is lit AF, says cannabis community

Kehinde Wiley's portrait of President Barack Obama.
Artist Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Barack Obama.

The world’s cannabis fans have taken a shining to President Obama’s newly unveiled official portrait for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The portrait by famed artist Kehinde Wiley debuted Monday to mixed reviews depending on political persuasion. But there was one group that was on-board with the lush, green, vibrant painting.

From twitter to reddit and beyond, lovers of President Obama’s ‘hands-off state-legal cannabis’ policy cheered the foliage-packed piece, which seemed to beg for some photoshopping.

Artist Wiley united visual themes from Abraham Lincoln’s portrait by George P. A. Healy with call-outs to classical Renaissance garden portraiture, including visual references to the President Obama’s Kenyan, Hawaiian and Chicago background. That background also included time in the famed “choom gang”, the name for his high school clique which partook of cannabis, according to the President’s biography.

The New York Times notes: “What makes this one distinctive is the personal part. Mr. Wiley has set Mr. Obama against — really embedded him in — a bower of what looks like ground cover. From the greenery sprout flowers that have symbolic meaning for the sitter. African blue lilies represent Kenya, his father’s birthplace; jasmine stands for Hawaii, where Mr. Obama himself was born; chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago, reference the city where his political career began, and where he met his wife.”

“From top to bottom and side to side, the entire field of the picture is filled with a lush garden.” notes the Washington Post. “They make inroads on his jacket, trousers and shoes. In a few hours, he may disappear altogether.”

“Instead of the darkness that threatens to engulf Lincoln, Wiley substituted an effusion of plants.”

The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham — who covers drug policy reform — was among the more prominent to celebrate with a tweet: “Nothing but respect for my choom gang”.

The massive online forum community of reddit was also on-board. The photoshop of President Obama amidst more fragrant foliage became the number two most upvoted picture of the day on the massive site’s “r/pics” pictures forum, with more than 56,000 upvotes in 24 hours.

Artist Kehinde Wiley has been visually appealing to cannabis fans for years with his style of high renaissance meets hip-hop. He adds the black royalty that’s missing from traditional Western Civilization art history.

The work bucks the “the tone of bland propriety” in the National Portrait Gallery, said the New York Times.

And for haters of its loud style, reddit readers also noted that a number of presidential portraits are unique. Artist Chuck Close did President Bill Clinton in warped, LSD-like visuals. And look at this trippy portrait of the normally staid Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Though President Obama did not legalize cannabis and spent hundreds of millions of dollars interfering with state-legal medical cannabis, he is on track to be remembered as not only the first president to admit he inhaled, and but then to achieve the title of the most powerful man on earth, where he used his enormous discretion to allow cannabis prohibition to die a natural death in the states.

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A photoshopped version of artist Kehinde Wiley's portrait of President Obama.
A photoshopped version of artist Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama.

Cannabis Editor |? | San Francisco Chronicle. Award-winning journalist. Best-selling author.