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Barkley L. Hendricks
The Birth of the cool and the death of the master
Miranda Carroll, June 3, 2019
Iconic Dexter, 2008
Iconic Dexter, 2008
 
Sometimes the portraits trade on outrageous cool—there is the 1972 portrait of Sir Charles (Willie Harris), a small-time drug dealer in New Haven. Painted wearing a long red overcoat, white turtleneck sweater, and tan-and-white shoes, Sir Charles looks both exalted and haunted; Hendricks renders him three times: side views on the left and right, and a back view in the center of the painting. In each case we can see the outline of the subject’s face; on the right figure, the man’s face is fully visible, with a bit of unease checking the tableau’s emphatic energy. Hendricks, in several self-portraits, a couple of them full-length frontal nudes, sometimes shows a bit of ironic distance in his art; as a youthful participant in his burgeoning culture, he managed to record and, at the same time, stay objective. Just as immediate experience set an example for Hendricks to document, so his technical training at school allowed him to invest his images with resonant effects that are in keeping with the past. His current work, smallish studies of Jamaica’s landscape on rounded canvases, strike me as beautiful if slightly academic. Even so, we remember Jamaica as contributing powerfully, in politics and in music, to the drive that helped make black culture what it is today.

Sweet Thang (Lynn Jenkins), 1975–76
Sweet Thang (Lynn Jenkins), 1975–76
 
George Jules Taylor, 1972
George Jules Taylor, 1972
 
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