Value Portraits with Tessellations

The Wednesday Elementary Art Class completed value portraits with tessellations. This project was inspired by the current exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum which features artist Kehinde Wiley.

Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley is one of the leading American artists to emerge in the last decade and he has been ingeniously reworking the grand portraiture traditions of Western culture.

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Since ancient times the portrait has been tied to the representation of power, and in European courts and churches, artists and their patrons developed a complex repository of postures and poses and refined a symbolic language. This language, woven into all aspects of a portrait, described the sitter’s influence and power, virtue and character, or profession.

In his consideration of portrait traditions, Wiley has been especially drawn to the grand aristocratic portraits of the 18th century.

The artist began his first series of portraits in the early 2000s during a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He set out to photograph and recast assertive and self-empowered young men from the neighborhood in the style and manner of traditional history painting. Since then he has also painted rap and sports stars but for the most part his attention has focused on ordinary men of color in their everyday clothes. Trained at Yale in the 1990s, Wiley was steeped in the discussions concerning identity politics during this decade and he brings his personal insights and theoretical studies to his practice.

Wiley’s portraits are highly stylized and staged, and draw attention to the dialectic between a history of aristocratic representation and the portrait as a statement of power and the individual’s sense of empowerment. Source


We created our backgrounds out of tessellations – covering a surface with a single repeating pattern without gaps or overlaps. In tessellation designs, congruent polygons fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces that repeat again and again.


We talked about Escher who is the ‘Father’ of modern tessellations.During his life, he became obsessed with filling surfaces with pictures that did not overlap or leave spaces. Aged 68, he stated, “Filling two-dimensional planes has become a real mania to which I have become addicted and from which I sometimes find it hard to tear myself away.”

In 1925 he produced what was really his first tessellation. It was a block print of ‘lions’ in which the subject interlocked and covered the plane! He block printed it on silk in gold and silver. He was disappointed that people were not impressed.

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Escher died in a home for old artists on 27th March, 1972. He had produced 448 woodcuts, linocuts and lithos and over 2000 drawings. Source

This is how we made our tessellations pattern:




Value Faces

For the faces, we talked about value and used what we had previously learned to paint a value face. I helped them in this process by using the Cut Out filter in Photoshop.


They stayed with one color, which was the opposite in temperature to the background, to paint value faces. This project was a little challenging for this age group but they worked really hard on their faces and hopefully learned something too.


Don’t miss the Kehinde Wiley exhibit at the SAM! It is well worth a drive downtown.

Can’t wait to see you-all again!





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