Did you know that Toronto is home to the world’s only art on film festival? Or that it is in its 11th year? Probably not. For the past few years, the Reel Artists Film Festival has blown us away with its A-list roster of films, talent and frankly, how underrated it is. This year, RAFF upped the ante yet again by premiering An Economy of Grace, a film about artist Kehinde Wiley and his unique brand of hood-meets-highbrow in pieces that portray African Americans in heroic poses.
At Wednesday night’s opening, the who’s who of Toronto’s art scene fêted the film, hobnobbing with the artist and taking in an onstage Q&A with him and Zoomer editor-in-chief Suzanne Boyd, which focused on the sociological impact his pieces have on his subjects as well as his work with Givenchy.
An Economy of Grace follows Wiley as he creates his first women-only painting series, casting them on the street in Harlem, dressing them in couture gowns and transforming them into large-scale re-imaginations of classic works of art. It also documents the artist’s collaboration with Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci, who created the dresses exclusively for the paintings. “When I thought about the absolute favourite of favourites or what stood for the best of haute couture, it was Givenchy,” said Wiley of the partnership. As current fashion plays so comfortably in the arena of high low, Wiley’s work touches on how once impossible that kind of combination would have been. In the days of great master portraiture (Wiley’s work often draws directly from Titian, Ingres, John Singer Sargent and Napoleon painter Jacques Louis David), subjects would have been those with money, wealth and social stature. They certainly would never have been of colour, something Wiley’s work flips on its head.