I recently trekked to Studio Museum in Harlem to check out an artist I’ve never heard before and that is the one and only Barkley L. Hendricks.
He’s one helluva badass portrait painter, following peers and famous people of Black America of the 60’s and 70’s careful to accentuate every detail of clothing and accessory in pure funk diva hippie fashion. The crisp monochrome background supporting each life size portrait creates an over the top aura and brings out the already life-like dimensionality of the figures. Most notable are his self-portraits, especially the white on white Slick portraying the artist in cool composed nonchalance, poised resting on one foot, hands behind back, toothpick in mouth and smirkish mini grin challenging and humbling our gaze.
Sir Charles, Alias Willie Harris, 1972
He uses oil, acrylic and magna in his paintings and uses one to flatten via matt texture, the background while causing the figure to float and pop out of the background. His choice of monochrome color is not unrelated and is used as a complimenting tool to the distinct individual characters he portrays from each sitter. The most mind boggling element of these works are the cropping. It seems inexplicably random and spontaneous his choice of cropping out the feet in one and a slive of the head in another.
Icon for Fifi, 1982, Oil and combination leaf on linen canvas, 60.25 x 50.25 in
It amazingly affects the physical and characteristic height of each figure, where in one a woman wearing all yellow in front of a golden background is shown with a bit of hair cropped filling up the entire length of the canvas leaving her a bit stunted and crunched where as another figure is cropped from knee down, body slanted to one side with a gaze peering out in a long peach trenchcoat with hands in pocket standing in front of an off white pinkish background floating, drifting by as if a ghost.
Misc. Tyrone (Tyrone Smith), 1976, oil and magna on linen canvas, 72 x 50.25 in
The artist’s ability to capture the texture of fabric and accessories are superhuman, especially the washed out denim look, look closely and the paint is applied ever so thinly and I believe the washed look comes from the scraping of paint directly from the canvas. In Misc. Tyrone, a tall lanky bald man resembling Dave Chapelle stares with curious intoxication holding a handing under his arms in midst of a determined gait. The overalls are amazingly true to life, the color, texture, folds and lining with anatomy, I just couldn’t get over this masterful depiction combing formal elements of shade, placement and shape with personality that brings out the unique in each sitter.