Black Pride Portraitist Dies

Barkley L. Hendricks, a painter who celebrated Black pride in each of his works, died on Tuesday in New London, Conn. He was 72.

Travelling around Europe as a student in the mid-60s, Barkley L. Hendricks was forever charmed by the portraits by van Dyck and Velázquez. Later during the rise of the Black Power movement, he started creating life-size portraits of friends, relatives and strangers encountered on the street that communicated a new assertiveness and Black pride.

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“Lawdy Mama,” is one of his first works depicting a young woman with huge Afro gazing at the viewer. Despite the style of her dress the background of the portrait bears some resemblance to a Byzantine icon.

Barkley Hendricks Lawdy Mama 1969 Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 53 3/4 x 36 1/4 in. The Studio Museum in Harlem gift of Stuart Liebman, in memory of Joseph B. Liebman 83.25

“My paintings were about people that were part of my life,”  Mr. Hendricks said in one interview. “If they were political, it’s because they were a reflection of the culture we were drowning in.”

Some time passed and he added photography to the list of his skills. Despite that, during his life, Mr. Hendricks remained a somewhat neglected figure. And only in 2008, when Trevor Schoonmaker organized the travelling retrospective “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, that he began receiving his due.

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“As an added note of audacity, he paints into the reflections of the mirrored sunglasses the figure is wearing two little cityscapes and what may be a miniature self-portrait of the artist himself at work,” the critic Hilton Kramer wrote of his painting in The New York Times. “It is all quite stunning.”

 

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