Few artists changed pop culture the way Michael Jackson did. Nine years after his death, people around the world are still emulating his dance moves, playing his songs on the radio, and creating their own art inspired by the King of Pop. As a tribute to his enduring legacy, a collection of artworks depicting the singer-songwriter—some of which have never been publicly showcased before—has gone on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The exhibit, "Michael Jackson: On the Wall," features the works of 48 artists, with notable names including Keith Haring, David LaChapelle, and Andy Warhol.
Its opening on June 28 marked the first time that the final commissioned portrait of Michael Jackson, titled Equestrian Portrait of King Philip II (Michael Jackson), was displayed in the UK. It was painted in 2009 by New York City-based artist Kehinde Wiley, who unveiled two separate portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama in early 2018.
Wiley described working with Jackson on the painting as an “extraordinary” experience and said he was surprised to learn how knowledgeable the singer was about Peter Paul Rubens’s 17th-century painting Philip II on Horseback, which Wiley based his version on.
“His knowledge of art and art history was much more in-depth than I had imagined,” Wiley told the National Portrait Gallery. “He was talking about the difference between early and late Rubens’ brushwork.”
Wiley finished the portrait several months after Jackson’s death. Celebrity photographer David LaChapelle, another well-known artist who captured some of Jackson's final months, will have several of his works displayed in the exhibit.
LaChapelle is known for working religious symbolism into his images, and some of his photographs of Jackson—taken just before the singer’s death—depict the performer as Jesus. Of Jackson, LaChapelle told Paper magazine in 2017, “Michael is a big, important figure to me. I put him on the level of Michelangelo, William Blake, The Beatles. There was no musical equivalent for the time. Michael had something that touched everybody. He was magical.”
The exhibit will coincide with what would have been Jackson’s 60th birthday on August 29 and will remain open until October 21.
Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP/Getty Images