Barkley L. Hendricks (American, 1945–2017)
Oil and acrylic on canvas
48 × 47 3/4 in. (121.9 × 121.3 cm)
Courtesy Barkley L. Hendricks Estate and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
© Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
In historical European art, the Rückenfigur (back figure) motif is meant to allow viewers to imagine themselves in the position of the painted figure, whereas in early 1980s America, the figure seen from the back connects to a history of protest and signals a refusal to comply. However, this painting, one of a handful of single-figure portraits by the artist depicting the sitter from behind, need not refer to either of these associations. Hendricks was adamant that his art was not political, that he simply painted what he saw. The puffy coat showcases the range and richness of his approach to the color white, while meticulously rendered details adorn the sitter’s head—with its two sets of sunglasses and an earring—and the left hand, with its red mitten with a snap hook. Rotating the canvas forty-five degrees allowed Hendricks to depict the figure at a large scale while retaining a smaller canvas size.