- Barkley L. Hendricks
An early and visually arresting example of Hendricks' rare full-size portraits, Brenda P hails from the critical year of 1974 - a landmark period of his production that includes such renowned paintings as What's Going On, recently featured in the exhibition Soul of a Nation. Sensual, cool, and exuding an ineffable funk characteristic of contemporaneous 70s popular culture, Brenda P is an archetype of the artist's most assured portraits. Dressed in sumptuously saturated scarlet and green fabrics, her platform sandals poised in the effortless contrapposto pose of classical figurative sculpture, Brenda P testifies, not only to Hendricks’ extensive familiarity with tradition of “high” canonical portraiture, but to the artist’s unique absorption of these techniques as a means of reclaiming a status rarely afforded to minority figures within canonical art history. Born in Philadelphia in 1945, Hendricks attended the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; it was during his years at PAFA that Hendricks first visited the legendary European art centers that would prove to have a lasting effect on his idiosyncratic brand of portraiture. While visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Prado in Madrid, Hendricks observed Rembrandt’s distinctive use of light and shadow, Frans Hals’ attention to detail in the folds of a sitter’s clothing, and Gustav Klimt’s exquisite renderings of three-dimensional figures against a luminous, flat ground; in the present work, Hendricks absorbs and transforms the techniques of the Old Masters, making evident his own mastery of paint and color by simulating distinct textures, shadows, and depth with remarkable skill. Against the monochromatic backdrop of white, the entirety of the viewer’s focus is upon the radiance of Hendricks’ subject, bringing the artist’s exquisite attention to light, fabric, and subtly nuanced hue to the fore. Within the rich intensity of the figure’s crimson blouse, minute brushstrokes designate embroidery around the neckline with remarkable intricacy, while subtly nuanced shading in the fabric’s folds and wrinkles provides fascinating textural depth to the intentionally polished composition. Beneath the flowing hems of Brenda P’s green bell-bottoms, a glimpse of neatly painted toes adds a startling intimacy to Hendricks’ otherwise regal depiction. Indeed, even more astounding than Hendricks' astute mastery of color and intricate handling of his figure’s sartorial voice is the almost-preternatural ability with which he depicts the unique power and personality particular to the individual before him: while Hendricks passed away in April 2017, his painting and the personalities they represent hum with an alacrity and spirit that will resonate with and inspire viewers for generations to come.