Artists find inspiration, sometimes, in other artists.
The great painter Barkley L. Hendricks enjoys revisiting the old masters–Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Velazquez–who turned him on to painting when he was a young student travelling around Europe on scholarship.
“It’s like good music,” Barkley told me. “I mean, you can be replenished every time you hear it.”
So before heading to the Armory Show in New York yesterday, Barkley and his wife, Susan, (just off the train from Connecticut) visited the Frick Collection, the outrageous 19th-century mansion and blue chip art collection of Henry Clay Frick, once the largest individual railway stockholder in the world. There, they saw “Rembrandt and his School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections.” (It’s on view through May 15, 2011.)
They were generous enough to let me tag along. What would have been a tranquil little exhibition was spiced up with Barkley and Susan’s reminiscences of visiting Rembrandt’s home in Amsterdam, their humor and their never-miss-a-thing observations.
Barkley revealed his brilliant painter’s eye with each comment. In the first gallery, I took in deep mocha walls and a parade of eye-level works on paper, mostly portraits and landscapes in brown ink. But Barkley noticed the variety of frames. The simple black frames stood out as “austere and powerful,” he said, compared to the works in between, framed in lighter wood or gold leaf.
Learn to “draw with the brush,” Barkley always told his students at Connecticut College, where he taught for decades and is now professor emeritus. Watercolor or ink is less effective over charcoal or pencil. “There’s that mud element that happens,” he explained. “I’d tell them to avoid that.”
Outside the Rembrandt exhibition, in the Oval Room, Barkley leaned in close to each painting, stepped back, and leaned in again to inspect the old masters’ treatment of fur, metal, lace, velvet. Of course I thought of the way Barkley “shows off” his incredible talent for making every possible texture (in clothing, jewelry, furniture–anything) real on the canvas. See examples from his solo show at the Nasher Museum here. Barkley’s work is included in the Nasher Museum’s upcoming exhibition “Building the Contemporary Collection: Five Years of Acquisitions,” opening next week.
In his portrait, King Philip IV of Spain, Velazquez creates an optical illusion in the king’s satin sleeve and lace cuffs, Barkley pointed out. Up close, the fabrics are a tangle of brush strokes. Farther back, the details make sense again. “The human eye, from a particular distance, will compensate all the detail as necessary.”
J.M.W. Turner’s Cologne: The Arrival of a Packet-Boat: Evening also captured Barkley’s attention.
“I like Turner a lot, but these people are piss poor!” Barkley said. “When you fall back, they work. This sky is gorgeous.”
IMAGE: Barkley L. Hendricks pauses outside the Frick Collection on East 70th St., New York. Photo by Wendy Hower Livingston.