A DECADE AGO TODAY, “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” opened at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University (Feb. 7-July 13, 2008). The traveling survey brought renewed attention to Barkley L. Hendricks (1945-2017), the artist and photographer whose powerful portraits dating from the 1960s and 70s masterfully capture the individuality, attitude and style of his subjects, nearly all of them African American. The exhibition featured 57 paintings from 1964 to 2007 and a catalog was published to document it.

In the intervening years, Hendricks’s post-modern, realist images have become a barometer against which portraiture by a new generation of artists is compared and contrasted. Fascination with his work remains unabated and asking prices for the now rare, out-of-print catalog start at $350. In the wake of his death last April, a second printing of the fully illustrated volume was published by Duke University Press in January.

The new hardcover catalog retails for less than $40. The content is the same as the original paperback with contributions from Trevor Schoonmaker, who organized the exhibition, essays by Franklin Sirmans and Richard Powell, and a conversation with the artist conducted by Thelma Golden. The sole update is a two-page spread that concludes the volume. The brief un-bylined tribute states that the Nasher Museum is proud to have worked with Hendricks on the exhibition and summarizes the late artist’s career.

Similar to the first, the re-issued volume is an invaluable resource documenting Hendricks’s many works and also conveying a sense of the artist himself. Toward the end of the catalog, Hendricks authors his own artist chronology. The year-by-year timeline is illustrated with family photos and images of some of his paintings. It’s is a rollicking journey through his life, career, and exhibition milestones with candid and humorous comments from the artist along the way. He begins with his birth date (April 16, 1945) and place (Philadelphia), and also lists the same information for his parents and siblings, noting that his twin sister died at birth. From there, his life unfolds. Key highlights include:

    1963-67: At PAFA, Hendricks is the first African American to be awarded two consecutive travel grants. (He goes to Europe and North Africa.)

    1968-74: Joined New Jersey National Guard, completing obligation after six years.

    1970-72: Studied photography with Walker Evans at Yale University.

    1975: First solo exhibition in the South at the Greenville County Museum of Art in South Carolina. There was an issue with some of the works he wanted to present. “I was told I would not be able to show any nudes. I later discovered they had white nudes in their collection. My black nudes where just too ‘black,’ so I’ve been told.”

    1976: Featured in an advertisement for Dewar’s Scotch Whiskey that is a profile. Among other details, it notes Hendricks is 31 and his Most Memorable Book is “I Wonder as I Wander” by Langston Hughes.

    1977: Traveled to FESTAC ’77 (Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture) in Lagos, Nigeria.

    1978: Solo exhibition at Arch Street Gallery in Philadelphia yields fringe benefits. “Gallery director, John Phillips, a former student of mine at Connecticut College, later became an assistant to George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festivals. This allowed me backstage access to photograph many jazz greats.”

    1980: First solo exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

    1982-1984: Solo exhibitions at Spectrum Gallery on 57th Street, New York, N.Y. “The now-defunct gallery was run by a friend from Philadelphia. This was a sports gallery where my basketball paintings were on view in the Big Apple for the first time. Other exhibition spaces and galleries had a very closed mind about showing any work that was not a black figure.”

    “The now-defunct gallery was run by a friend from Philadelphia. This was a sports gallery where my basketball paintings were on view in the Big Apple for the first time (1982-84). Other exhibition spaces and galleries had a very closed mind about showing any work that was not a black figure.” — Barkley L. Hendricks

    This painting, which was featured in Birth of the Cool, was offered for sale at Sotheby’s in March 2017. Lot 212: BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “DIPPY’S DELIGHT,” 1969 (oil and acrylic on canvas). | Estimate $50,000-$70,000. Sold for $68,750 (including fees).


    April 2, 1983: After meeting at local Aldo’s Jazz Club (1979), Hendricks and Susan Weig are married at their home in New London, Conn. Two ministers officiate (a man and a woman) and 13 guests attend.

    1984-2002: No portraits are produced during Reagan presidency and in wake of brother’s 1999 murder. Hendricks turns to his landscape works, finding a measure of mental relief painting outdoors in Jamaica. “As I prepared the timeline for this catalog, I noticed something about my figurative painting output during the “Ronaissance” (the age of Ronald Reagan). As we have learned about this period of our nation’s recent history, it in no way resembles the age of enlightenment we call the Renaissance. It was two steps forward and four steps backward in many aspects of us coming together as a national and thoughtful country on the planet.”

    2000: “The Magic City,” a group exhibition at Brent Sikkema Gallery, New York, N.Y., is first collaboration with curator Trevor Schoonmaker.

    2003: “Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti” opens at New Museum, New York, N.Y. Curated by Schoonmaker, it features “Fela” Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen” (2002) the first figure painting Hendricks completed since his 18-year hiatus making portraits.

    2006: Hendricks participates in Whitney Biennial. “This is my third group exhibition at the Whitney and the first time I have shown photographs. I was gratified that my provocative Ku Klux Klan images were selected for inclusion in this show.”


This work was offered for sale at Sotheby’s in May 2017. Lot 189: BARKLEY HENDRICKS, “Innocence & Friend,” 1977 (oil and aluminum leaf on canvas, in two parts). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $396,500 (including fees)


Hearing directly from Hendricks about his life and work brings the chronology to life. The catalog’s greatest reward is the opportunity to spend time studying Hendricks’s powerful “people paintings” (as he has referred to them), including works from his “limited palette” series, many images of women, various self portraits, and large-scale double, triple and multiple portraits.

Of course, there is no substitute for experiencing the paintings in person. Powell, the Duke University art historian, testifies to the benefits of viewing the works repeatedly and considering them anew. In his essay he writes: “Every intermittent sighting of Barkley L. Hendricks’s work over the past few decades has been a revelation. Paintings previously seen (and about which I claimed some critical expertise) were invariably a surprise and an art historical conundrum to behold again and again.” CT


ON VIEW: There are currently a number of opportunities to see paintings by Barkley L. Hendricks. An exhibition of his rarely seen drawings from 1974 to 1989 opens Feb. 25 in New York City at Jack Shainman Gallery, which represents the artist’s estate. Hendricks is featured in Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp. Trevor Schoonmaker is serving as artistic director of the triennial, where a solo exhibition of Hendricks’s work is on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art through Feb. 25. His paintings also appear in “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” which recently made its U.S. debut at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. (Feb. 3-April 23, 2018). His photographic self portrait from 1980 is featured in the exhibition “Portraits of Who We Are,” which explores how artists portray themselves, at the David Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, through May 18. In addition, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston is presenting “Legacy of the Cool: A Tribute to Barkley L. Hendricks,” a celebration of the artist’s legacy through figurative works by a new generation of 24 artists working in a variety of mediums.


TOP IMAGE: BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS (1945-2017), “Bahsir (Robert Gowens),” 1975 (oil and acrylic on canvas). | Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Museum purchase with additional funds provided by Jack Neely. © Barkley L. Hendricks, Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion


Lawdy Mama
BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Lawdy Mama,” 1969 (oil and gold leaf on canvas). | The Studio Museum in Harlem; gift of Stuart Liebman, in memory of Joseph B. Liebman 1983.25; © Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York


BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “What’s Going On,” 1974 (oil, acrylic, and magna on cotton canvas, 65 3/4 x 83 3/4 inches). | Megan & Hunter Gray. © Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York


BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Icon for My Man Superman (Superman Never Saved any Black People – Bobby Seale),” 1969 (oil, acrylic, and aluminum leaf on linen canvas). | Collection of Liz and Eric Lefkofsky, © Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Superman S-Shield © & ™ DC Comics. Used with permission​


BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS (1945-2017), “Take All the Time You Need (Adrienne Hawkins),” 1975 (Oil on linen canvas). | Gift of Kelsey and David Lamond. 2014.6.1. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York, Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion


The catalog for “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” is an amazing documentation of the exhibition and the artist’s practice. It features essay contributions from Trevor Schoonmaker, who organized the exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; Art historian Richard Powell of Duke University; and Franklin Sirmans, now director of Perez Art Museum Miami; and an interview with Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. The volume also contains informative acknowledgements by Hendricks and a chronology that includes personal and pithy comments from the artist about his milestones and experiences over the years. “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” was published to coincide with the exhibition, now on view at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, before it travels to the Brooklyn Museum.


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.