THE MOST CELEBRATED WORKS by Barkley L. Hendricks are his 1970s portraits of cool characters he encountered at Yale University and knew in the years following. Last year, in an interview at Swann Auction Galleries, Hendricks regaled the audience with amusing stories about his colorful subjects, but then noted the importance of his technique for executing the paintings.
“One of the areas of creativity that doesn’t get enough coverage, in terms of what I like doing, is being involved with the materials themselves,” he told Nigel Freeman, Swann’s director of African-American Fine Art.
“One of the areas of creativity that doesn’t get enough coverage, in terms of what I like doing, is being involved with the materials themselves.” — Barkley L. Hendricks
Hendricks went on to explain in detail why he uses a combination of oil and acrylic paints and how each has particular attributes and drying times that help him accomplish a “wet-dry” effect. Using oil for the figures gives them what he describes as a “liquid” and “reflective” quality that contrasts with his acrylic backgrounds.
He also talked about a group of images that he calls his “limited-palette work” in which his subject’s clothes are a similar hue to the painting’s background. He has painted black-on-black canvases, blue-on-blue, red-on-red and yellow-on-yellow.
Swann’s forthcoming auction features “Steve,” a life-size, white-on-white painting by Hendricks with an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. The 1976 image graces the cover of the April 2009 edition of Artforum magazine, which was published when his “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of Cool” exhibition (which originated at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art) was traveling from the Studio Museum in Harlem to the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
“Steve” is also reproduced on the cover of Swann’s current auction catalog. Entitled “Ascension,” the April 2 African-American Fine Art sale includes top lots by Hendricks, Norman Lewis and Henry Ossawa Tanner.
Nine Lewis paintings on canvas and paper are up for auction, including “Cathedral,” a 1950 oil painting. According to Swann, its whereabouts were unknown for six decades until it was “rediscovered” in the past year in Vermont.
The first lot of the sale, “Boy and Sheep under a Tree,” an 1881 painting by Tanner (top of page), is described in the catalog as “one of the finest and earliest Tanner paintings to come to auction in the past twenty five years.”
Ascension also includes 19th century artist Edward M. Bannister, works by James A. Porter, Palmer Hayden, Felrath Hines, Eldzier Cortor, Lois Mailous Jones, Hughie Lee-Smith, Mavis Pusey, Charles White, David Driskell, Jack Whitten and Sam Gilliam, and popular figures Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Elizabeth Catlett. A selection of contemporary works by Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, and Carrie Mae Weems, and photographs by Dawoud Bey, Roy DeCarava and Gordon Parks, are also up for bid.
Auction estimates for the 177 lots range from $1,000 to $300,000 CT
TOP IMAGE: Lot 1: HENRY OSSAWA TANNER (1859 – 1937), “Boy and Sheep under a Tree,” 1881 (oil on linen canvas). Estimate: $200,000 – $300,000
All images courtesy Swann Auction Galleries
According to the catalog, “Yhis plaster bas-relief head by Sargent Johnson is a very scarce and exciting find – it is the only known surving plaster model from his 1942 frieze at George Washington High School.
“Rediscovered” at a Vermont estate where it had been for 60 years, “Cathedral” resembles stained glass. According the catalog, the painting represents “the pinnacle of Norman Lewis’ first abstract period—describing the urban landscape of New York City within his ‘Black Paintings.’ Lewis would paint what he saw from his studio window or on walks at night in Harlem.”
In the 1980s, Ellis Wilson gained widespread exposure to a national television audience when his painting “Funeral Procession” was featured prominently in the Huxtable home on the “Cosby Show.”