Hendricks was born in Philadelphia in 1945 and was recognized for his artistic and musical talent from an early age. In 1963, he was accepted to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which would initiate a rapid development in Hendricks' style. The artist gained acclaim in the Philadelphia art scene and had the opportunity to visit the artistic centers of Europe, marveling at 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 groundbreaking combination of subject and stylistic treatment, 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, 2016, p. 195).
The subject of Dancer herself stands poised and erect, communicating a pervading inner strength and serenity. She wears a white leotard, which Hendricks differentiates from the equally white background with a subtle underlayer of green, which in turn compliments the warm undertones of her skin. Her hands are clasped behind her back, and from hairstyle to jewelry to makeup, she is unabashedly herself. Her hair is bleached and styled in a short afro. Light glints off of her metallic eyeshadow and jewelry. She wears a cosmology of symbols: arrows and hearts, moons, stars and spheres. Hendricks’ subject is anonymous, yet he has captured her so fully, in appearance and energy, that she cannot be mistaken for anyone else.
Hendricks uses a concoction of malleable oils and water-soluble acrylic pigment to achieve the startling level of verisimilitude in the present work. His mastery over light effects takes his subject beyond the border of the canvas, introducing a sense of liveliness that defies the limitations of painting. The pigment is built up in thin layers so that in one passage, the subject’s jewelry might seem to stand in stark relief against her skin, while a cool ambient light makes that same passage of skin lustrous and tactile.
Hendricks’ Dancer is also notable for its distinguished provenance: Norma Canelas Roth purchased it directly from ACA Galleries in New York just one year after its execution and it has remained in her venerable collection ever since. Ms. Roth and her husband profess an all-consuming passion and discerning eye for collecting across an astounding spectrum of categories, including Chinese textiles, African headdresses, African and Oceanic art and Contemporary art. Many of these storied objects have been exhibited in a series of exhibitions highlighting the varied artistic traditions of Africa at the Orlando Museum of Art and the present work remained on extended loan to the museum from 2011-2016. One of the last great ‘limited palette’ paintings in private hands, Hendricks’ Dancer is truly unmatched in quality and its inclusion in the Roth Collection stands as a testament to their visionary prowess as collectors who were determined to acquire works ahead of their time.
Honored with a five-venue career retrospective organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in 2008, Hendricks’ approach to his subjects, their personality, attitude, and sense of cool has earned him a place as one of the leading portraitists of the 20th century. Summarizing his practice with his trademark panache, Hendricks stated, “where human subjects are concerned, I address what is in front of me” (ibid., p. 194).
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