Barkley L. Hendricks, 1945-2017


Barkley L. Hendricks, Lawdy Mama, 1969. Collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City.

I cannot let the passing of painter Barkley Hendricks go by without a few words. Hendricks was arguably the greatest portrait painter of African-Americans in the late 20th/early 21st centuries – among painters only Kehinde Wiley comes close. But although his subjects are black men and women, Hendricks is able to stand with portraitists regardless of the race, gender, or what-have-you of their subjects. Hendricks created portraits that are part of the great stream of art history. Look at the gold background in Lawdy Mama, above; it harkens back to the gold of icons and medieval manuscript illumination, while the subject is, even after 40+ years, as modern as the world around us. Great portrait painters are rare in this technological age, and so Hendricks will be particularly missed.


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