Opening events can be crowded and loud, not the best time to take in a new art exhibition.
But the recent event for American artist Barkley L. Hendricks’s solo exhibition, Heart Hands Eyes Mind, at Jack Shainman Gallery was a party before the party started. The most dazzling and cool guests (14 of them, in nine new paintings) could only exist on a Barkley L. Hendricks canvas. The human party guests, fashionably late, were immediately drawn into the work on the walls.
“You did actually feel the room where the new works signaled a visual party,” Barkley told us. “Around the corner I saw the colors, which I certainly intended to make poignant and powerful and eye catching.”
We caught up with Barkley by phone at his Connecticut home today. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his new body of work.
Nasher Museum: We longtime fans are accustomed to admiring the many textures, patterns and materials in your work. What object was the trickiest to paint? Maybe the green Popsicle, or the jeweled pinkie ring?
Barkley L. Hendricks: Actually the dollar bill on Triple Portrait from the Yard (2012) was an ass kicker. That was done in all acrylic and normally I don’t do things in detail in acrylic and it pushed me in a direction that I had to attempt it and complete it all acrylic. … You can erase it or get rid of it before it dries; you obviously have to be very quick if you make a mistake … I was forced to use a tool that I hadn’t used since high school which was a ruling pen to make sharp lines. That was one of the most commanding and demanding techniques that I had to add to my repertoire. That particular illustration was the most demanding in the show. … I took my time with it. I didn’t let necessarily the number of works peeve me. I had a number that I wanted to have completed for the show and that particular piece for some reason commanded my attention to include. … It gave me pretty much what I desired; it was a combination of concept and basic completion.
NM: We’ve heard the new term “moron fashions.” Can you explain?
BLH: (Laughs.) Maroon fashions, moron fashions, idiot fashions. You know what I’m talking about. Black and white, boys wear their pants down around their ankles, you can see their underpants. They’re morons! I don’t know what some of these parents are doing in terms of child rearing.
NM: We’ve heard that artists make self portraits because the subject is always available and free.
BLH: Well you’re always around. Unless you’re a nut, then we don’t know where you are!
NM: During a visit to the Frick Collection in New York about a year ago, you invited us to peer very closely at old-master and Impressionist paintings (especially a Renoir exhibition), which up close dissolve into points of light and shadow but snap back into focus when you get about 10 feet back. How is it that your paintings retain their focus at any distance?
BLH: I was leaning more toward the dance as a focal point and a cultural connection to the time. The situation with the dancers being face to face during the latter part of the 18th century. Well as we know now things have evolved, the dance has taken on a different directional shift, needless to say. The most fun you can have with your clothes on, in some circles! I like to think of myself as an illusionist. People want to put me into a category. Yes I do use photographs in certain situations but there were a lot of things … in the works that were not photographs. They were taken from real life scenerios, real life objects. So there’s a composite situation that’s going on. … The texture of Syreeta’s gown (Sweet Senorita Syreeta, 2012) came from a wedding dress that I have and I’ve used that for my classes while I was teaching. I bought several wedding dresses at yard sales and we’d use them to put my models in. Now that I’m no longer teaching they’re props. … The buckle, I have the buckle. I could go on and on. The shoes, I have the shoes. In Passion Dancehall #1 the shoes came from a yard sale where a friend of mine’s daughter wore them once and didn’t wear them anymore … they became a prop. There’s a composite of marrying objects to people. I’m trying to trip your vision up to believe that this is leather, this is plastic, this is metal. … and a few other textures that are part of the fashion statements that people are making daily. There’s an aspect of illusion that I’m trying to fool you with.
Visitors can see examples of Barkley’s paintings and photographs now on view, as part of the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection. In 2008, Trevor Schoonmaker at the Nasher Museum organized the artist’s first career retrospective, Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, which traveled the country.
IMAGE: The artist poses between Passion Dancehall #1 (left) and Passion Dancehall #4 at Jack Shainman Gallery. Photo courtesy of Susan Hendricks. (Thank you, Susan!)