Barkley L. Hendricks has spent nearly the last six decades mixing photorealism with Pop references to render a distinctive laid-back cool that traces blackness through the fashion of identity. In the 1960s and 70s, when the black and white communities in America begin to develop distinctive forms of dress, Hendricks created large-scale portraits of everyday black Americans in dandy-meets-Black Power aesthetics, bearing both funk and disco influences. Present in Hendricks’ art are flâneur figures contrasted against flat, evocatively bright, monochromatic canvases. The canvases are sometimes circular or diamond-shaped and laced with European abstract undertones. Now 70, Hendricks recently opened a show of new paintings, Barkley L. Hendricks, at Jack Shainman Gallery.
The exhibition features paintings that fall neatly in line with the earlier works by Hendricks. Anthem shows a female singing in front of a tricolor earthy backdrop. Photo Bloke shows a clean-cut figure in a pink suit paired with white Nike Air Force 1 shoes and a matching pink background. The works continue the artist’s ability to show, through capturing highly stylized, personal, and mundane moments, the sensibilities of his subjects. John Wayne and Passion Dancehall 5, as do other, more recent works, reveal Hendricks' interest in rendering international black life and tastes.
In Barkley L. Hendricks, like the series of younger black artists working right now, responds to the spate of killings of unarmed black citizens in America. Hendricks uses his kicky, cool aesthetic, honed over the years, to make provocative pronounces about the police violence that has plagued black communities in recent memory. In the work Roscoe, a black male figure wears blue jeans and a blue long-sleeve T-shirt that says, in white, "Fuck Fox News” in the station’s font. The message is presented over warm stripes of yellow, purple, and orange. The painting, To Be Titled, is comprised of four smaller canvases that come together to depict a black youth wearing a grey hoodie with his hands raised up in the air. The gesture evokes Black Lives Matter protests in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown. The figure’s sweater is embossed with the words, “I no can breathe,” which reminds us of Eric Garner, and a red mark that evokes a high precision sniper rifle on the figure’s forehead. The figure in similar stance is repeated in the painting, In the Crosshairs of the States. What changes is that the circular work is installed on top of an American and Confederate flag.
The haunting works seem to conflate two separate killings of unarmed black males and the history of the Civil War to make a point about how violence seems to find black males, no matter the circumstance. The works also seem to suggest that Barkley has boldly turned his documentarian painting process to the concerns of injustice. In his current solo show, in the fashion of his figures, he captures the racism that has led to a great deal of anguish.
Barkley L. Hendricks continues through April 23 at Jack Shainman Gallery. Click here for more information.
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