Barkley L. Hendricks

American  •  1945-2017


An artist well ahead of his time, Barkley L. Hendricks radically embraced figuration in the 1960s—a time when abstraction ruled the global art world. It was whilst touring European museums that a young Hendricks was so taken aback by the lack of Black subjects in Old Master paintings that he embarked upon what is now his best known body of work: life sized portraits of Black and Latino men and women primarily from his native Philadelphia, depicted in contrapposto. The tonal subtleties and exquisite attention to light, fabric, and flesh in Hendrick’s portraits are utterly impressive, revealing Hendrick’s adoption of Old Master techniques with a Pop Art sensibility to render the full complexity of everyday people. In the commanding, towering presence and undeniable swagger of many of Hendricks’s subjects we recognize that very sense of cool detachment and defiant empowerment so characteristic of the artist’s revolutionary portraiture.

A pioneer of post-war Black figuration, Hendricks paved the way for such artists as Kehinde Wiley and others. As Trevor Schoonmaker, the curator for Hendricks’ career retrospective in 2008, said in a nutshell, “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.”



  • Hendricks earned both his BFA and his MFA from Yale University. 

  • Hencricks' work can be found in collections at the National Portrait Gallery, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Studio Museum, in addition to other institutions. 

“I wanted to deal with the beauty, grandeur, style of my folks. Not the misery.”

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