By Harrison Haynes
Diego Velázquez’s “Pope Innocent X,” c. 1650, lives in its own little chamber at the Galleria Doria-Pamphili in Rome and in 1993 and 1994 I went to visit it three or four times. I would sit down, regarding the ugly man’s piercing stare from across the room, until the whole composition, dominated by the feathery shape of his satin cloak’s glare, became a number of interlocking dark and light shapes. Then I would get as close as the barriers would allow and scrutinize the brushwork: the crazy gestural haphazardness which had appeared purposeful from afar, and areas of extreme detail, areas of paint describing jewelry, lace and ornate furniture that looked like scumbly little abstractions.Barkley Hendricks’s “APB’s (Afro-Parisian Brothers),” 1978, in his currently hanging show at the Nasher, has been a similarly revisit-able painting for me. (I’ve been trying to take advantage of the accessibility of all this amazing work. If you’re a painter [or an electrician or a dishwasher] go spend some time standing in front of these paintings).
Anyway, I’ve been returning to look at APB’s. I really like that Barkley assigns acronyms to his own titles. It gives the sense that aside from having an acquaintance with the subjects, he also has developed a relationship with the painting itself, to the degree that the title is merely his own nickname for the canvas. What first drew me in was a fragmented narrative feel stemming from the two figures’ unknown relationship and the setting suggested by the title. One strong connection to Velázquez (and El Greco) is in the paint handling. Both painters seem to get lost in the representational journey to paint light and shadow as they lay across apparel, and to assign unique paint handling to each separate material- Velazquez in his depiction of satin vs. lace in Pope Innocent X and Hendricks with the rendering of denim vs. wool vs. cotton in APB’s. There’s a gateway to abstraction here in the almost myopic focus of these artists when they are painting drapery. And if you scrutinize APB’s at close range you can see an aspect of the painting that exists outside its initially illustrative identity. Scan across the lapel of the lefthand APB’s blazer and you’ll fall down into the shadow of his vest front and get caught on this delicate, gleaming gold watch chain that looks like it was painted with an eyelash.
My band, Les Savy Fav, is going to play at the Nasher Museum next month to mark the closing of the Hendricks show.
The connections here might be more tenuous than those of Barkley to the Spanish Baroque painters, but I do feel that, like Barkley, we’ve gone about attaining our ideal of creative accomplishment in a fairly stubborn way, relying on our own (often made-up seeming, in our case) rulebook. Barkley is also a musician and our band is made up of artists.
Harrison Haynes is the drummer in Les Savy Fav and co-founder and preparator at Branch Gallery in Durham.
Image credits (from top):
Diego Velázquez, “Portrait of Pope Innocent X,” c. 1650. Oil on canvas, Collection of Galleria Doria-Pamphili, Rome.
Barkley L. Hendricks, “APB’s (Afro-Parisian Brothers), 1978. Oil and acrylic on linen canvas, 60 3/4 x 50 1/4 inches. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; The Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund.
Still from Les Savy Fav concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on November 7, 2006.
Harrison Haynes, “We All went Down There Together,” 2007. Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x60 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.
Ron Wood, “Paint It Black Suite – Pretty Beat Up.” Screenprint, 38.2 x 28.3 inches.