Barkley L. Hendricks (American, 1945–2017)
Blood (Donald Formey), 1975
Oil and acrylic on canvas
72 × 50 1/2 in. (182.9 × 128.3 cm)
Collection of Jimmy Iovine and Liberty Ross
© Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
Donald Formey was a student at Connecticut College. For this limited-palette painting, Hendricks altered the sitter’s clothes as he did in many of his portraits. Formey had worn jeans to model, but Hendricks painted him wearing plaid pants that matched the pattern of his jacket. Over the course of the sittings, Hendricks added the tambourine. Formey recounts that the artist gave him the instrument to pose with after he noticed him tapping his foot to the music playing in his studio.
Speaker: Donald Formey on Blood (Donald Formey)
The first time I actually saw him or heard of him was actually in his class. It was the first day of class. And it was really a different experience, even the first day. We’d see him around campus all the time, but I was lucky enough to choose to be in an art class the first year. And it was not like any art I’d ever seen before.
Well, you know, I’m from the south, you know that’s the bible belt, and the first day of class there was a nude person, a lady, over to the right. I’m like “what in the world…”, and then over to the left there was a nude guy. And I’m like “Uh Toto, we’re no longer in Kansas.” And it was really a different experience. And this teacher was like the coolest guy you’d ever seen, or ever met, he was always the same demeanor, he’d be smiling but usually kind of quiet. And he had his Fu Manchu mustache going, he had earrings, and I, you know, I wasn’t really used to any—I wasn’t used to the earrings anyway, coming from Georgia. He’d made everybody feel pretty comfortable, he’s a great guy.
I would call him Professor Hendricks in class, you know—but he wanted us to call him Barkley, so we ended up doing that. My mama, she wouldn’t want me calling no grown person by their first name like that [laughs]. Oh, I was grown but I was a kid, I was like what, 18 at the time? And so that’s been a long time ago. But you know I’ll always remember him because he was always the nicest guy, no matter where you saw him. Race meant nothing to him, whatsoever, you know. And back then in the 70s you know that was the Civil Rights Movement and all that stuff, but he kind of was a person that was kind of a loner in a way to himself, but he got along with everybody. It didn’t matter who you were, he made everybody feel comfortable. And me especially, I was from the South, and, you know not too many people in that school were from the south, you know, let alone folks with my ethnic origin in that particular school, and he always made me feel kind of comfortable. He painted a whole lot more cooler people than me. And you could flip through that book and you can tell, I mean these guys have these cool outfits on. That was that was my jacket, and that was my cap, but it wasn’t my pants. [laughs] And he just kind of, he got creative, you know, and I’m kind of famous for that suit now I guess, so…[laughs].
Believe me it’s not a big time jacket I’m not even sure where I got it from. It was like your regular department store you know, and I was in Connecticut. It seemed like a lot of folks were dressing in these bright colors and stuff and I just was trying to fit in. And the cap, no that was, that was a Donald specialty there, I’d wear that anywhere you know, and I still do with these kind of caps, you can see, just little more mature type.
He came to me one day after class and he just asked me point blank, would you consider me painting a portrait of you. And I was honored to hear it, you know, because I mean, nobody ever asked me to do that before, and I wasn’t always a person that was in the forefront of anything, but I was glad to do it because I liked him as a person, and he was always real nice as a teacher and everything else. So, he just asked me would I do it and I told him yes, and he invited me to his home to do it and when I went into his home it was like this big art studio on the inside. Maybe unfinished paintings and stuff like all over the place. And I was standing there, and he was playing some kind of jazz or something like that, and I was just tapping my foot and he goes “Oh, very musical” and he found a tambourine that he had, and he asked me did I mind holding it? I told him no, cause you know back then tambourine was pretty cool. I mean in all the parties and stuff on campus I used to go to the guy to, the tambourine was the man you know, so..[laughs] So, I was more than happy to do that.
He kind of like, brought to the forefront what I thought was cool anyway. He just kind of validated that for me but [laugh]. I couldn’t believe he asked to paint me though. I didn’t really realize exactly how famous he was, until I was actually out of school. I didn’t know. Yeah, I saw his picture on his, you’ve heard of Dewar’s liquor? He was on Dewar’s profiles once when I was back home, out of college, I go “Hey, hey!” telling everybody, “This is, this is my friend and my professor.” I was so impressed, and amazed, and turns out that more than an art professor, he was just a real, real deep guy.
It was amazing. I was mesmerized, like just stand and just stare at it for the longest time. And I was a person, like I was not really all that popular necessarily around campus until that happened. And I would like you know, I don’t know if you have ever been in the Cummings Art Center where it was, but down in that sort of area, courtyard, on the outside, you could look up and see my portrait through the window, for like, two or three months? You know, I’m like “unbelievable,” I was a big star [laughs]. I pretty much have to give him credit for that. I was no longer invisible. And, everywhere I’d go, students would be like, I was all of a sudden this popular guy that I wasn’t before.
I’ll never forget him. I talked about him all the time, even before I realized how popular this painting would end up being. I would, you know talk about him with my family and friends back home all the time. I mean just the coolest guy imaginable. He really was. My man.