Barkley L. Hendricks (American, 1945–2017)
Magna, acrylic, and oil on canvas
67 × 48 1/2 in. (170.2 × 123.2 cm)
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk; Gift of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York
© Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Regarding self-portraiture, Hendricks wrote: “‘Since you are always around’ was one of the descriptions I heard to define self-portraiture. I was not fascinated with myself as much as Rembrandt or depressed to the extent of Van Gogh.” (Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait is in the Frick's collection.) Hendricks based the title of this self-portrait on his sister telling him, “You think you're so slick, just wait, one day a woman is going to straighten you out.” The composition is enhanced by the colors of his cap, which, according to the artist, is from an African design and probably of Muslim origin. The leg-shaped pendant, recounted Hendricks, was made in Mexico and was a gift from a lady friend; it had no significance other than being the right shape to fit in the V of his coat.
Speaker: Elisabeth Sann on Slick
My name is Elisabeth Sann, and I am a Senior Director at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.
It was such a privilege working with such a legendary artist.
Probably our first interaction was them, Susan and Barkley, standing at the front desk and Barkley probably taking a picture of my heels. I wore very high heels back then when I cared to [laughs]; he probably took a picture of my shoes before saying hi.
He could not be bothered with the art market. It lived completely outside of what he was interested in. It was contrary to a lot of the things he was interested in. He knew he was a painter and to live as a painter you have to sell your paintings, and I think he knew it was a necessary evil, but he did not like that aspect of being an artist. We talked about it a lot [laughs].
I think a lot of the times his self-portraits were when he was most playful. What a lot of people overlook is the convenience of having yourself as a model. If you have an idea, you can just do it, because you’re there, you’re available, you don’t have to direct someone. Like in Slick, it’s a joke about himself, it’s a joke his sister made to him, and he was like, “Oh yeah maybe I am slick.” And that’s true with, I think, all of his self-portraits. They are very tongue in cheek, they’re little private inside jokes, they’re beautifully painted, so people can engage with them on that level, but also there are these little jokes and little Easter eggs hidden in them that people can have a deeper interaction with.
Barkley was never concerned about what people thought about him or about his art. I think he always thought that if people didn’t get it, then they didn’t get it, maybe they’ll get it later. But the art is what it is. I think he was into personal fashion as his own way of expression too, but I don’t think he cared what people thought of how he looked, how he dressed, it was just for himself. And his paintings were just for himself too.