Art reference

Exhibition on the hugely influential artist Barkley L. Hendricks

Hendricks revolutionized contemporary portraiture with his vivid depictions of black subjects derived from photographs of models or hired characters he encountered on the street. From the late 1960s his work inspired and challenged the traditions of European art, and the Frick collection – with its iconic portraits of Rembrandt, Bronzino, Van Dyck and others – was one of his favorite museums. Through a selection of a dozen of Hendricks’ finest portraits presented in the context of Frick’s collections, the exhibition and its accompanying catalog will examine the complex place of European painting in Hendricks’ art and how his work, in turn, continues to inspire great artists and designers today.

Comments Ng, “The Frick offers moving encounters with characters painted centuries ago. As our temporary exhibit at Frick Madison showed, these works can look and engage visitors so differently outside of the Frick Mansion, within the Brutalist setting of the Breuer Building. Many of our visitors here are new to the Frick, a revelation that has sparked reflection on who the Frick serves, has served and will continue to serve. This project – the first major museum exhibition and catalog to focus solely on Hendricks’ early portraiture period – allows us to examine the connections Frick has made with artists since becoming a public museum in 1935. Hendricks’ stunning portraits of predominantly black figures, not depicted in Frick’s historic paintings, but who, with their confident style, seem at home among them, provide unprecedented opportunities to celebrate and explore Frick’s collection, Hendricks’ breakthrough innovations and the bridges between them.

Adds Sargent, “When Aimee and I started talking about Frick and his place in today’s world, I suggested an exhibit on Barkley L. Hendricks – obviously because of his interest in historical art. as he was developing his own style of portraiture of black subjects, but also because the quality, dignity and visual impact of his paintings is what I think Henry Clay Frick might be drawn to if he collected now , thinking of future visitors to the museum a hundred years from now. The catalog accompanying the exhibition is an exciting way to highlight and reflect on Hendricks’ own legacy, how he inspired generations of artists and designers and continues to do so today.Showcasing the art of Hendricks in a historic institution like the Frick pays homage to the historical significance of Barkley L. Hendricks, and also honors the evolving role of the Frick in modern American culture.

About Barkley L. Hendricks:

Hendricks developed his signature style at a time of significant social and cultural change in the United States, particularly with regard to black artists, and amid a binary perception between abstraction and representation. He made portraits from the late 1960s to the early 1980s; after a break during which he produced landscapes, basketball paintings, works on paper and photographs, he resumed his portraiture practice from 2002 until his death in 2017. This exhibition brings together some- some of the most innovative and prominent examples of his early period of portrait painting, including a set of ‘limited palette’ canvases – featuring black figures dressed in white against a white background – a self-portrait and color works bold images that showcase the dramatic styles and poses of their subjects.

After student trips to European museums in the 1960s, from which he returned “with his head full of inspiration”, he revisited these institutions (including the Frick) throughout his career. His reworking of portraiture conventions stems largely from his study of Old Master painting, among the most important of his varied interests, which also include African and indigenous art, fashion and jazz music. His predominantly black subjects are self-possessed and treated with individuality and reverence, celebrating the black identity that was so grossly underrepresented in the canons of historical European art and modern American art. At the same time, he was deeply committed to exploring the abstraction and eloquence of color and form in figurative painting.

A number of his elegant and often humorous portraits make direct reference to historical precedents. One of the first works in the exhibition, Lawdy mom (1969), for example, adapts the age-old technique of gold leaf in Christian paintings – exemplified by a group of early Italian Renaissance panels in Frick’s collection – to a portrait of his cousin, wearing a headdress afro (see page 1) . Elegant and contemporary, Lawdy mom also offers a meditation on the archetypes of the female form and the lasting impact of European art and Christian culture in modern societies. In limited palette painting Steve (1976), the meticulously painted reflections of arched windows in the subject’s sunglasses evoke Northern Renaissance artists like Jan van Eyck, whose paintings were so striking to Hendricks during his travels in Europe and whose Madonna and Child with Saints and Jan Vos is one of the most popular works from Frick Madison’s Northern European galleries. Each portrait in the exhibition highlights a distinct dimension of Hendricks’ practice which, drawing inspiration from history, transformed figurative painting for future generations.