Professor Emeritus of Studio Art Barkley Hendricks passed away on April 19, 2017, at the age of 72. He retired from teaching in 2010.
Barkley was a painter best known for his life-sized oil portraits of friends, family, and sometimes strangers. The organizing curator of his major retrospective, “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool,” said, “His bold portrayal of his subject’s attitude and style elevates the common person to celebrity status. Cool, empowering, and sometimes confrontational, Hendricks’ artistic privileging of a culturally complex black body has paved the way for today’s younger generation of artists.”
Barkley joined the Connecticut College faculty in 1972. He earned his bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees from Yale University. In his 38-year career at the College, he worked with generations of students to develop and refine their artistic voices in courses on representational painting, drawing, illustration and photography. His creative focus was portraiture, the figure and landscape. He took great joy in addressing these subjects in a wide variety of media.
The College Art Association honored Barkley with the 2010 Artist Award for a Distinguished Body of Work. The association said at the time that his work “transformed how African Americans saw themselves, and how they were seen.” His major retrospective, “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool,” featured more than 50 paintings, and was on exhibition at a number of national museums from 2008 through 2010.
When the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African-American History and Culture opened in Washington, D.C., in September 2016, one of Barkley’s works was on display, loaned to the museum for the opening.
In what may have been Barkley’s last interview, he spoke with CC Magazine about his life’s work. That interview and a selection of his paintings will appear in the summer 2017 issue of the magazine.
His wife of 34 years, Susan, survives him.
In his words, "In 1968, I was asked to make a statement concerning my art. At the time I quoted these words by the late Charles Mingus: 'My music is as varied as my feelings are, or the world is, and one composition or one kind of composition expresses only part of the total world of my music.' If you substitute "music" for "art" (painting, drawing, photography and assemblage) you will have an assessment of my art - then and now. Mr. Mingus goes on to say: 'Each composition builds from the previous one and the succession of compositions create the statement I'm trying to make at the moment.'"
Exhibitions by Barkley Hendricks
- "Birth of the Cool," Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, February-November, 2008. Hendricks was an artist-in-residence working with visual arts professors and students during a two-month stay on the Duke campus.
- "Birth of the Cool," Studio Museum, Harlem, Nov., 2008 - March 2009
- "Birth of the Cool," Santa Monica Museum of Art, mid-2009
- "Birth of the Cool," Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, September-December, 2009
- "Birth of the Cool," Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas, 2010
- Connecticut Contemporary Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, 2007
- American Visions, Philips Exeter Academy Lamont Gallery, Exeter, New Hampshire, 2007
- Who's on First: American Legacies Invitational ALVA Gallery, New London, Connecticut, 2007
- REPRESENT: Selections from the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, State Museum, Albany, New York, 2007
- Lag-Time Line-up, Mumbo Jumbo Gallery, New York, New York, 2006
- Black Panther: Rank and File, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, Calif., 2006