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Barkley Hendricks

Artist 90 Barkley Hendricks Portraiture Photorealistic Painting

Barkley Hendricks (1945) was a contemporary American painter who made pioneering contributions to black portraiture and conceptualism. He is best known for his realist and post-modern portraits of people of color living in urban areas beginning in the 1960s and 70s and continuing to the present. While he worked in a variety of media and genres throughout his career (from photography to landscape painting), Hendricks' best known work took the form of life-sized painted oil portraits of Black Americans.

Trevor Schoonmaker, the organizing curator for Hendricks’ traveling exhibition Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool said, “His bold portrayal of his subject’s attitude and style elevates the common person to celebrity status. Cool, empowering, and sometimes confrontational, Hendricks’ artistic privileging of a culturally complex black body has paved the way for today’s younger generation of artists.”

Barkley L. Hendricks’ socially charged work has spanned drastically diverse cultural climates, from the Black Power movement of the 1960s through the election of the United States’ first black president.

While touring European museums in the ’60s, a 21-year-old Hendricks was so stricken by the lack of black presence in paintings of the Old Masters that he began his now best known work: life-sized paintings of urban black men (originally subjects from his hometown of Philadelphia) in empowered, classical depictions.

Hendricks became a pioneer of black portraiture that pairs art history with questions of personal identity and cultural heritage. Though primarily a painter, Hendricks credits photography as a key to his practice, which he studied under Walker Evans and often uses as reference to create his stunning, photorealistic portraits

His painted figures are spatially isolated yet sartorially and attitudinally in touch with vital issues of the day.

“His portraits have always been people of the time,” says Elisabeth Sann, a director at Jack Shainman Gallery who has worked closely with the artist.


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