“Today his body of work is as vital and vibrant as ever, and it should prove him to be a lasting figure in the history of American art.”
Barkley L. Hendricks - Jackie Sha-La-La (Jackie Cameron)
R enowned for his intimate, elegant and instantly recognizable portraits which blend Old Master painting techniques with an intangible sense of cool, Barkley Hendricks’ depictions of his friends, family and creative milieu are highly specific yet universally legible. Jackie Sha-la-la (Jackie Cameron) from 1975 epitomizes the most celebrated elements of his career, bringing together technical mastery, narrative specificity, and a stylish, inimitable aura in a visually dazzling composition. Imbued with cultural touch points ranging from art historical allusion to pop culture and music, the present work freezes its subject and her zeitgeist in time, inserting her presence, and Hendricks’ vision into a storied lineage of art history.
Hendricks was born in Philadelphia in 1945 and in 1963, was accepted to Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which would initiate a rapid development in the artist’s style. Hendricks gained acclaim in the Philadelphia art scene and had the opportunity to visit the artistic centers of Europe, where he developed a fascination for the masterworks of the Dutch Masters and the Impressionists who would later inform the treatment of light and subject in his work. Painting against the grain of his peers who were exploring the mechanical nature of Pop or reduction of Minimalism, Hendricks struck out in a direction all his own, turning his gaze to the Black people he grew up with, lived with, met on the street, and with whom he had relationships. Explaining his characteristic style, Hendricks stated, "I accept the challenge of the material I’m working with: the people in front of me[…]I credit my early training of life model figures. I had the knowledge of how light works on the epidermis” (the artist quoted in Zoe Whitley, “American Skin: Artists on Black Figuration,” in Exh. Cat., London, Tate (and traveling), Soul of a Nation, 2017, p. 195).
Far more complex than the portraits that belong to Hendricks’ monochromatic, limited palette series, Jackie Sha-La-La (Jackie Cameron) is an iconic painting, emblematic of Hendricks’ mastery over the depiction of materials, fabrics and his attention to detail, all of which culminate in deeply moving portrayals of his sitters. “Hendricks’ stylized portraits,” curator Trevor Schoonmaker writes, “also reveal the artist’s rare talent for capturing and expressing the personality of his sitters through their unique gestures and expressions. Through an insightful eye and formal devices that enhance his subjects’ individuality and style, Hendricks can simultaneously convey the depth of one’s psychology and elevate the common person to iconic status” (Trevor Schoonmaker, “Birth of the Cool,” in Exh. Cat., Durham, Nasher Museum of Art, Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, 2008, p. 26). Wearing a printed floral dress, a sun hat casually balanced on her head with white magnolias on its brim, and delicately lifting a can of Coca-Cola with her fingertips, Jackie Cameron is adorned with, and surrounded by, a myriad of objects, all positioned not unlike a Flemish still life. The magnolia, a longstanding art historical symbol of wealth, is further woven into the pattern of Jackie’s dress and in the rug under her feet. Such iconic art historical tropes are juxtaposed with the immediacy of Jackie’s languid pose and casual demeanor. In Jackie Sha-La-La (Jackie Cameron), Barkley Hendricks has successfully transferred the power of the male gaze onto Jackie: she is autonomous, in control and studying the viewer from beneath her wide-brimmed hat with an assertiveness unprecedented in Western art history.
The present work is further distinguished by belonging to a small cycle, five paintings, of portraits of friends and students, painted in Hendricks’ studio. These portraits are distinguished by bold patterning in each figures’ dress, but also in their surroundings, be it lively tiled walls or an imagined Moroccan rug derived from Hendricks’ travels across Europe at the beginning of his career. Indeed, Hendricks’ studio had neither patterned walls nor carpeted floors, yet he explores and shows off his pure mastery over oil paint with his representation of rich fabrics and light. Of these five similar paintings, three reside in prestigious museum collections: the Tate, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Nasher Museum at Duke University.
BARKLEY HENDRICKS WORKS FROM 1974-75 IN MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
A play on visual culture old and new, Jackie Sha-la-la (Jackie Cameron)’s title lends insight into how vital a source of inspiration music was for Hendricks. He has cited well known musicians ranging from Miles Davis and Nina Simone to the Rolling Stones and Chaka Khan as major artistic touchpoints, and even borrowed lyrics to title his paintings. Indeed, Al Green’s “Sha-la-la (Makes me Happy)” topped charts in 1974, surely providing a poetic link to the present work. A jazz musician himself, Hendricks’ fusion of song lyrics with other cleverly-crafted titles is entirely demonstrative of how he embraced and captured the complexities of Black life and culture on the surface of his canvases. In painting Jackie Cameron’s physicality, he simultaneously captured her spectacular and sassy spirit, one that could easily be conjured up with the chorus of a beloved Al Green song.
Placing his sitters—and by proxy his community—into the context of high art, made possible by his conceptual bravery and complete control over his medium, Hendricks’ artistic prowess takes people and ideas outside of the blue-chip mainstream and makes them unignorable. In doing so, Hendricks paved the way for contemporary artists such as Kehinde Wiley, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas and Titus Kaphar, among others. Committed to continuing this important artistic movement, a portion of the proceeds of the sale of Jackie Sha-La-La (Jackie Cameron) will benefit the charitable initiative Art for Guernsey, specifically to sponsor an artist residency program for emerging Black artists.