Barkley L. Hendricks (American, 1945–2017)
Bahsir (Robert Gowens), 1975
Oil and acrylic on canvas
83 1/2 × 66 in. (212.1 × 167.6 cm)
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham; Museum purchase with additional funds provided by Jack Neely
© Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo Brian Quinby.
Hendricks described the sitter as “a good friend from Philadelphia” who visited him in New London, Connecticut. The arched windows of Hendricks’s State Street studio are reflected in the eyes of the central figure. Like October’s Gone . . . Goodnight, Bahsir draws on the classical motif of the Three Graces, the triple-portrait format suited for subjects for whom he “felt that one pose was not enough.” Here, however, two of the figures slightly overlap, enhancing the illusion of the bodies in space. Bahsir is among the tallest of Hendricks's figural paintings. He recounted having stood on a paint bucket to reach the heads and hats in the upper section.
Speaker: Trevor Schoonmaker on Bahsir (Robert Gowens)
I’m Trevor Schoonmaker, Director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
In February of 2008 we opened Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool at the Nasher. He’d never had the big survey or the retrospective. There was no gallery that had all of his information, files, images, bio. The only place that existed was in Barkley’s own home, in his files. There was no archive to go to, other than Barkley himself. So, it was Susan, who played a really key role, Barkley, and myself. Barkley didn’t do email. We’d get on the phone, we’d talk some things through, and Susan and I would track it down. That catalogue, Birth of the Cool, I think people don’t realize the amount of detective work and labor that went into just producing the hard, factual information, beyond curating the show.
Bahsir we acquired maybe 9 months or a year before the show opens; we acquired it in 2007, and I’d honed in on what I thought were some of the most dynamic works that were still available in his personal collection, which was quite a bit at that time. I consulted Rick Powell who teaches at Duke. I’d only been a year at Duke, so I wanted to make sure we got this right. Rick and I agreed that Bahsir was the one because there are so few paintings with multiple figures, and Barkley maybe did only about three or so that had the same subject in multiple poses. It’s large scale, it’s a beautiful painting. There are a couple other directions we could have gone in; we thought that was the most majestic of the few.
I was explaining this to Barkley, I said “You know when I talk to artists, I hear the excitement in their voice about seeing your work and they may have only seen one painting at the Studio Museum in Harlem. And it made a huge impact of seeing themselves represented in the museum.” So, I was explaining that to him, and I said “now that people have access to your work with this show you’re gonna really see how influential you have already been and, that influence will only grow tremendously.” And he said, “Yeah, Trevor, we’re going to put on a great show, I love working with you, but I’ll believe all that other [beep] when I see it.”
When people saw his work in Durham, the response was overwhelming. I think he got to feel some of the feedback from a younger generation, and see it evidenced literally in their work, being influenced by him and in tributes, created in his honor, and I think that made him feel really good.
Barkley was as cool as you would imagine. He radiated cool, he radiated calm, very confident, he had an extraordinarily warm smile, a very embracing, welcoming smile that just puts you at ease. I’ve also seen him without the smile [laughs], not so much directed at me, but, he could have also at times be an intimidating figure. I think what’s odd today is, I think there is a younger generation that just assumed Barkley was always a hero [laughs] and not this overlooked giant in the art world.