Barkley L. Hendricks (American, 1945–2017)
Ma Petite Kumquat, 1983
Oil, acrylic, white gold, and silver leaf on canvas
72 x 40 in. (182.9 x 101.6 cm)
Collection Ben and Jen Silverman
© Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Hendricks painted this portrait of his wife, Susan, shortly after the couple married. The title comes from the small orange fruit held in the sitter’s hand: “I needed an additional warm color. So that little piece of citrus...gave the painting just what it needed as well as its name.” Susan modeled both for photographs and for live sittings, and Hendricks later added accessories like the green curtain pull, bow tie, muff, leg warmers, and bows on the shoes. He applied the silver-leaf dots on the upper register using the back end of a pencil. On her modeling for this painting, Susan remarked, “You’d be amazed how hard it is to stand in high heels with your eyes closed.”
Speaker: Susan Hendricks on Ma Petite Kumquat
He would have music on, he would have jazz on. Always. In the house, always jazz, from the minute he woke up in the morning til he went to bed. In multiple rooms, usually, probably multiple things playing. But no, no talking. It would have changed my mouth.
I don’t think he dressed me cause that is something I would wear, that outfit, sans the belt, but the black on the black, that vintage sweater was all beaded up in here. And that was a pair of tight corduroys. I think I added the disco belt and—fun fact—this disco belt thing that was around and then through the leg was also, I sort of copycatted that from another subject of his, Barbara from Something Like a Bird (Double Barbara). And she sort of preceded me in the disco time. We bartended at the same place where Barkley and I met.
I did the photoshoot, and then he took the painting to the point where he wanted to add the leggings, the muff, the—this is a curtain tie—the rose. The legwarmers, which I think it was rabbit, I’m not sure what kind of fur, but he put those on a mannequin leg and wrapped them with the ribbon, which then matches a couple of bows. Those were added later and I think those were on Christmas presents I gave him that year, so that would have been 1982, and this was a muff that he got from a vintage store in New London that he had hanging out in the studio.
But the only posing I did where he painted me from life was, I wasn’t even wearing the outfit, I stood where there were a lot of lights in the house, and he had me stand with my eyes closed—my glasses off and my eyes closed. And that was maybe, I don’t know, an hour, and then a break, and then another hour, and then another break. I did have the heels on. So, standing, in heels, with your eyes closed, is a very tippy proposition. So, it wasn’t the most comfortable thing. And as I said once before in a video, it wasn’t the most fun I ever had with Barkley Hendricks.
I didn’t really see what he was doing; he didn’t let me look after he was done painting, painting my face, and my hair, and the shadows on my face, and I think I came back later, and he had me hold my hand separately so that he could put the kumquat in.
The kumquat was actually based on another portrait that he did of Andy. Andy was a very close friend of ours; Barkley met him at Connecticut College, and Andy was from St Vincent in the Caribbean, and loved tropical fruits. And he introduced Barkley to kumquats. So, Barkley always told me that I was kind of like a kumquat, sweet on the outside, sour on the inside, or maybe the reverse. But anyway, he said it was the diversity of inside to outside that he always found interesting, and comparative to the kumquat for me.
This was finished I think right before our wedding. It was Picasso and Gertrude Stein. He did a portrait of her that had her eyes either crossed or her eyelids were sagging or something. And when she saw the portrait, she said, “But I don’t look like that.” And he said, “But you will.” So, with this painting, I said the same thing: “My hair isn’t fluffy like that.” It was a much shorter curl; I mean it was the length but shorter. I said, “My hair doesn’t look like that.” And he did the Picasso thing. He said, “It will!” [laughs] And it did. And it does.