EMERITUS PROFESSOR Barkley L. Hendricks (1945-2017) received the inaugural President’s Award for Creative Impact from Connecticut College on May 2. He was among five faculty members recognized by President Katherine Bergeron for demonstrating excellence and innovation in research, teaching and leadership. Hendricks is the first to be honored with the new Impact award which pays tribute to “a senior or emeritus faculty member whose contributions to a chosen field over the course of a career represent a record of significant innovation, achievement and influence.”

A celebrated artist and photographer, Hendricks was best known for his distinct approach to portraiture. His realist portraits of friends and associates in the 1960s and 70s conveyed a certain hipness and attitude defined by cool authenticity and self-possessed style. His groundbreaking images of black figures influenced a new generation, including artists Amy Sherald, Rashid Johnson, and Kehinde Wiley.

Hendricks taught at Connecticut College from 1972 to 2010. The award recognizes his work with “generations of students to develop and refine their artistic voices in courses on representational painting, drawing, illustration and photography, with a creative focus on portraiture, the figure and landscape.”

In a memorial tribute to Hendricks for The New York Times magazine, Jazmine Hughes, who attended Connecticut College during artist’s tenure, wrote, “He made a striking reputation for himself: Students either loved him or hated him.” She recalled how he conducted a core course for nearly four decades:

    “Barkley Hendricks began his Art 111/112 class by asking each student to bring in three small objects that meant something to them. The items varied, but he dubbed this the bottle-shoe-and-plate project, because these were the objects most students chose. Over the semester, the students would draw and redraw them — in different styles, in different media, in different orders — until he was satisfied. While each student worked, he circled the room, clutching his thermos of tea with honey and lemon, peering at their papers. He was known to harangue students for not-perfectly-rounded teacups or loudly harrumph at overdramatically shadowed plates. “You’re in college,” he would chide those who disappointed him. It was a class people cried in.”

“He made a striking reputation for himself: Students either loved him or hated him.” — Jazmine Hughes, New York Times Magazine

Lot 189: BARKLEY HENDRICKS (1945-2017), “Innocence & Friend,” 1977 (oil and aluminum leaf on canvas, in two parts). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $396,500 (including fees)


OVER THE COURSE OF HIS CAREER, the artist spoke sparingly about his teaching at the small liberal arts college near his home in New London, Conn.

For Brooklyn Rail, Laila Pedro talked with Hendricks in Spring 2016 about a solo exhibition of new paintings he was presenting at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York (March 17–April 23, 2016). During the course of the conversation, she broached his role as a professor:

    Brooklyn Rail: Speaking of school, you were a professor for how long? You taught at Connecticut College, my alma mater, until 2010.

    Hendricks: I was at Connecticut College for thirty-nine years. Before then at Yale, and at the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, and in various visiting artist roles. So I’ve been a teacher for over forty years.

    Brooklyn Rail: Does teaching inform your practice in a useful way, or is it purely a survival mechanism?

    Hendricks: Both. It’s a hand-in-glove situation.

During the same time period, I interviewed Hendricks about the exhibition and several other subjects including his teaching. In the previously unpublished conversation, he expressed ambivalence about the experience:

    Culture Type: You’ve taught for many, many years. Tell me about your work with students. Tell me about your experience with students. Do you like teaching?

    Hendricks: Well, it has its place. It helps to pay the rent. When I needed to go to Pearl Paint, I had enough money to do that. Teaching has its rewards. It’s a noble profession and there are a number of nice people that you meet. Every now and then, there is an asshole. But that’s life.

    Culture Type: Beyond paying the bills, did you feel fulfilled working with students and training the next generation and seeing the talent out there?

    Hendricks: I was just trying to do the best I could and make sure I wasn’t wasting my time or wasting theirs.


BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Slick (Self-Portrait),” 1977 (oil, acrylic, and magna on linen canvas). | © Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York


TREVOR SCHOONMAKER, chief curator at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, organized “Birth of the Cool” (2008-2010), the traveling survey that re-introduced Hendricks and cemented his legacy. The artist and curator became close friends after Hendricks contributed two early portraits to “The Magic City,” a group show Schoonmaker put together for Brent Sikkema gallery in 2000. Two years later, Hendricks made a portrait of Fela Kuti for another exhibition Schoonmaker was planning. It was the first portrait the artist had painted since 1983, after spending nearly two decades concentrating on his photography, landscape painting, and works on paper.

Schoonmaker served as artistic director of Prospect.4: The Lotus In Spite of the Swamp, the citywide triennial in New Orleans. (Nov. 18, 2017-Feb. 25, 2018). The programming included a posthumous exhibition of 12 portraits by Hendricks at the New Orleans Museum of Art. In the wake of the show, long-planned in advance of his death, Schoonmaker reflected on his introduction to the artist and his life and work. The curator wrote:

    “I was told that Barkley had a reputation for being kind of prickly. …I was unsure what to expect. Maybe he wouldn’t take my call or maybe I’d get a couple of minutes to make my case. What I found on the other end of the line was a warm, generous, funny and inquisitive person with whom I shared more common interests and experiences than I could have realized. We spoke for over two hours—about his work, about music, about our experiences in Nigeria, about Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. …It was an exhilarating experience for a young, aspiring curator.

    “…Barkley was a pioneering spirit who defiantly went against the grain and remained true to himself at all times. He thankfully didn’t care much about other people’s opinions and he didn’t suffer fools—but he was also a thoughtful teacher, a keen observer of life, and a loyal and generous friend with a great sense of humor. His unrelenting dedication to his vision and style has deeply inspired younger generations, and he has left behind a powerful legacy. Today Barkley stands out as an artist well ahead of his time. His extensive body of work is as vital and vibrant as ever, and the full impact of his art and teaching is only beginning to unfold.”

“His unrelenting dedication to his vision and style has deeply inspired younger generations, and he has left behind a powerful legacy. Today Barkley stands out as an artist well ahead of his time. His extensive body of work is as vital and vibrant as ever, and the full impact of his art and teaching is only beginning to unfold.” — Curator Trevor Schoonmaker

Hendricks authored a selected chronology of his life and work in the catalog for “Birth of the Cool,” and noted key experiences at Connecticut College. He became an instructor in 1972 and a year later had his first exhibition at the campus galleries. Subsequent exhibitions followed in 1983 and 1984. Hendricks was awarded tenure in 1978, and promoted to full professor at Connecticut College in 1987. Twenty-three years later, he retired in 2010.

In addition to Hendricks, President Katherine Bergeron honored Connecticut College professors Virginia Anderson, Sunil Bhatia, Tristan Borer, and Ross Morin with various faculty awards. About Hendricks, Bergeron said: “We are proud to honor his legacy.” CT


CORRECTION (05/08/18): This story has been updated to reflect that Barkley L. Hendricks is the first recipient of the new President’s Award for Creative Impact. The additional faculty members were honored with other teaching awards.


TOP IMAGE: Barkley Hendricks (1945-2017). | Photo by Duke University, Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery


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​


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.


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