Barkley Hendricks distinguished himself as a painter and photographer who invoked the grandeur and celebrated the flair of everyday Black people, memorializing them in his acclaimed life-size portraits. The artist died April 18 in New London, Conn., from a reported cerebral hemorrhage, according to The New York Times. He was 72.
Hendricks’ death was confirmed by Jack Shainman, the art gallery that represented the artist since 2005.
“He was a situational painter, documenting the world around him in vivid and highly detailed paintings that capture the distinctive personalities of his subjects. He was a true artist’s artist, always dedicated to his singular vision; he was a figurative painter when it was trendy and especially when it wasn’t,” the gallery said in a statement.
Hendricks’ focus on Black subjects was cemented when he toured Europe during his undergraduate years in the mid-1960s.
“His immersion in the Western canon,” the Times wrote, “left him troubled. In his visits to the museums and churches of Britain, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, he saw virtually no Black subjects. His own race was, in effect, a void in Western art.”
Drawing on the spirit of the rising Black Power Movement of the time, Hendricks began creating bold portraits of Black men and women—relatives, friends, even strangers—that communicated the effortless cool, sophisticated and singular fashion and, even more, an inherent pride of Black Americans.
“My paintings were about people that were part of my life. If they were political, it’s because they were a reflection of the culture we were drowning in,” Hendricks told The Brooklyn Rail magazine in a 2016 interview.
Hendricks was born in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1945. He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University and taught at the prestigious institution. He later taught at Connecticut College for 39 years.
The artist was the subject of a large-scale traveling exhibition, Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, organized by Trevor Schoonmaker at the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University.
Schoonmaker said of Hendricks’ legacy: “Over the past seventeen years Barkley and I have worked closely together on numerous exhibitions, talks and projects, but it is his deep friendship that I will miss the most. To be blunt, he changed the course of my life. With so many artists and writers now responding to his paintings and photography, Barkley stands out as an artist well ahead of his time. Though his work has defied easy categorization and his rugged individualism kept him outside of the spotlight for too many years, his unrelenting dedication to his pioneering vision has deeply inspired younger generations.”
The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. has an impactful Hendricks painting exhibited in the Culture Galleries-L-4 Visual Arts and the American Experience section of the museum.
Hendricks is survived by his wife of 34 years, Susan Hendricks.