BAIA BITS: Barkley L. Hendricks
You’ll find the following description on the website of Sotheby’s, the world’s largest and most prominent broker of fine and decorative art, jewelry, and collectibles. It reads:
“One of the most influential artists to have emerged in the late 20th century, Barkley L. Hendricks revolutionized portrait painting with his post-modern depictions of cool, stylish and self-aware black subjects… his vivid, precise paintings and photographs of everyday black Americans liberated the black body from a white-centered gaze, with subjects gifted with an unprecedented degree of regality, autonomy and self-assertiveness. Hendricks technical brilliance, evident in his sensitivity to color and his meticulously crafted style, capture the nuances of darker skin tones and the textured articles of clothing that drape his statuesque figures, pictured against radiating monochromatic backgrounds.”
Well that’s quite the tribute for the Philadelphia-born Hendricks, who graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1967 before attending Yale University and receiving both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in 1972. Soon after, the talented painter and photographer began a four-decade teaching career in studio art at Connecticut College, retiring in 2010.
But even before he attended Yale and started teaching, Hendricks’ life trajectory was deeply impacted by his travels through Europe in the mid-1960s. There, he was simultaneously inspired and disappointed by what he saw at the continent’s world renowned museums, the former a result of the extraordinary portraits by Rembrandt and Velásquez; the latter attributed to the humiliating lack of representation of artists and subjects of color. This experience prompted the young Hendricks to begin producing portraits of dignified Black subjects and, along the way, to craft a unique style of his own based in Baroque-style portraiture, pop culture, and conceptual art.
Armed with noble purpose, Hendricks’ works began making sizable waves in the art world. He would ultimately revolutionize portraiture with his realist and post-modern oil paintings representing Black Americans in urban areas. Further, he would profoundly influence such subsequent and world-renowned artists as Kerry James Marshall and Kehinde Wiley.
Hendricks work appears in numerous public collections in the US and abroad. They include the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and many others.
Barkley L. Hendricks passed on in 2010 leaving a sizable legacy in paint, imagery, and culture, both Black and American.
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