HAVE YOU HEARD OF BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS?


Photo by Derek Anderson

Barkley L. Hendricks (b. 1945 in Philadelphia) is a painter widely known for his stunning life-sized portraits of people he knows—friends, lovers, family members—and men and women on the street, people of color from the urban northeast. I was introduced to Hendricks’ work in the exhibition “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties” in Austin, TX earlier this year. His painting “Lawdy Mama” (1969) was my favorite piece in the entire show. It was striking and gorgeous—nearly life-size, this beautiful, but “everyday” black woman with a prominent afro (almost halo-like itself) surrounded by a kind of medieval arched backdrop of gold leaf—caused me to dub her the “Black Madonna” in my own mind. The piece says to me that Hendricks wishes to elevate the African American female, raising her to a station worthy of religious worship. I immediately fell in love with the painting and knew I had to check out the artist who created it.

According to Wright auction house, “Hendricks captures the individual personalities and auras of his revered subjects while introducing issues of race, gender, and identity…in a style that blends photorealism with pop sensibilities. Hendricks creates complex portraits that elevate ordinary humans to sacred beings. He invites viewers to look and to really see his subjects while at the same time his models seem to look right back.”

Hendricks made his mainstream museum debut at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, in the 1971
 show Contemporary Black Artists in America. In 1980, the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY, organized his first
major solo show. He has since been the recipient of numerous awards, has been widely exhibited, and is in the permanent collections of many top institutions including the National Gallery of Art.

Eventually in 2008, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University organized a career retrospective of Hendricks' work, Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool. It was the first painting retrospective of the American
artist, and includes over 50 works from 1964 to the present. Without a doubt, well-deserved. His name should be rolling off our tongues to the likes of Chuck Close, Alex Katz, and David Hockney.

Barkley L. Hendricks is African American visual artist #5 of 25 in my project “Have You Heard Of…?”

Barkley L. Hendricks “Lawdy Mama” 1969 Oil and gold leaf on canvas 53 3/4 × 36 1/4 in. 136.5 × 92.1 cm

Barkley L. Hendricks “Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris” 1972 oil on canvas overall: 213.6 x 182.9 cm (84 1/8 x 72 in.)

Barkley L. Hendricks “Icon for My Man Superman (Superman never saved any black people — Bobby Seale),” 1969, self-portrait

Barkley L. Hendricks “October's Gone...Goodnight” 1973 Oil and acrylic on linen canvas, 72 x 72 in.

Barkley L. Hendricks “Misc. Tyrone (Tyrone Smith)” 1976 Oil and magna on linen canvas, 72 x 50 ¼ in.

This early painting, Stanley, was executed when Barkley Hendricks was 26 and attending Yale University in New Haven.

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