Some people came to the opening of New York’s Armory Show yesterday to look at art. The artist Barkley L. Hendricks came to take pictures.
Two cameras swinging from his neck, Barkley spent hours combing the gallery booths of Pier 94 for that certain fabulous look. He’d stop and ask to take someone’s picture. Sometimes he didn’t ask.
“Photographic sketches,” he calls them. Homework. Capture the image, maybe use it later.
One of Barkley’s cameras is digital, the other holds color slide film. It takes nearly three weeks to get the color slides developed, Barkley said, so he has to wait a while to see what he got. “I’m still kind of steeped in the old school tradition.”
About two years ago, Barkley was walking through a park near the Connecticut home he shares with his wife, Susan. He noticed a young couple and asked to take their picture. The boy wore baggy jeans and maybe not the brightest expression; the girl wore a certain smile. She had, Barkley said, “an illusion of mobility around her.”
When the film came back, Barkley said, “I thought it could be a painting.”
The painting (above), “Double Portrait: Granite Street Gothic,” dated 2012, greeted visitors to Jack Shainman Gallery‘s booth at the Armory yesterday. The boy’s denim jeans, the bright sneakers, the girl’s earrings and hair, the skin tones, the outline of the cell phone in her pocket all allow Barkley to show off his masterful handling of texture and color. The couple’s personalities pop right off the canvas. The background color, Barkley said, is “something bright, sunlight, but not quite yellow.”
“Gothic” was quickly snapped up by Duke alumn and collector Michael Levine, a member of the Nasher Museum’s board of advisors.
If you remember Barkley’s huge solo show at the Nasher Museum in 2008, you might also remember that he has focused more on landscapes and photography in recent years. He is best known for his stunning, life-sized portraits of people of color from the urban northeast, painted mostly in the ’70s and ’80s. “Gothic” is a big happy surprise for Barkley L. Hendricks fans. But don’t ask the artist why he has begun painting his famous portraits “again.”
“I’m still painting, I never stopped,” Barkley said. “I was doing landscapes before I was doing figures. It was a continuum of painting.”
Barkley tells us, simply, that he has always painted what he wanted to paint. “Gothic” took less than a year to complete.
“It was fun. It was work,” Barkley said. “It was getting back into a rhythm.”
IMAGE: Barkley L. Hendricks, “Double Portrait: Granite Street Gothic,” 2012. Oil and acrylic on cotton canvas, 50 x 48 inches (51 1/2 x 49 1/2 x 2 inches framed). Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY. Collection of Michael and Marjorie Levine, NY.