Mayreh (Mary Sheehan)
Barkley Hendricks (Philadelphia, PA, 1945-2017)
Oil and acrylic on linen, 1973
72 1/4 x 50 inches.
Born in 1945 in Philadelphia, Barkley L. Hendricks trained as a classical painter at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and at Yale University, where he studied under Walker Evans. He rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when the urban cultural scene was flourishing. Cool, empowering, and confrontational are terms often used to describe his approach that mixes pop art, photorealism and black nationalism. He mostly painted full-figure portraits of people, often of color and his titles tended to reflect the phonetic pronunciation of the sitter’s name. His unique work has been closely associated with contemporaries, Chuck Close, Alex Katz, David Hammons and Adrian Piper while a generation of young artists have been directly influence by him, most notably Kehinde Wiley, Rashid Johnson and Amy Sherald.
In Mayreh (Mary Sheehan) (1973), we see Hendricks’ masterful use of color, his ingenious distillation of form, and superb control of the brush as he combines the pigment-saturated surface qualities of pop art with the illusory volume and richness of photorealism. The austere space is organized vertically with Mary occupying its center. The spread of her knees protruding diagonally outward give depth to the flat blue surround while the flirtatious hook of her left boot heel on the lower rung of the bar stool animates the stillness of her pose.
Similar to the groundbreaking, Byzantine-Mod image, Lawdy Mama which Hendricks painted in 1969, here too, he represents his sitter with both powerful individuality and iconic universality. In a unique fusing of artistic styles, moods, and meanings, much of the real Mary Sheehan’s confident sexuality is communicated through her erect posture, deadpan countenance and body conscious clothing, so distinctively style-bearing of its early 1970’s date. Hendricks further provides a devotional context to his modern Mayreh endowing her with a host of traditional mariological attributes, particularly those relating to Mary’s interior life and the beauties of her soul. She is Mary Queen of Heaven, seated frontally in a celestial blue heaven, with the biblical symbol of promise, a rainbow, at her center. The heart motifs covering Mary’s sweater direct us to Mary of the Immaculate Heart, with her prominent breasts and nipples evocative of Maria Lactans and the Christian symbol of Caritas.
The themes of cultural identity, fashion and attitude preoccupied Mr. Hendricks throughout his career. “How people dress is how they want to be seen by the world,” said Mr. Hendricks. Beginning in 1972, Barkley Hendricks taught art at Connecticut College in New London where he lived with his wife, Susan, dividing his time among the classroom, his studio and Jamaica, where he would spend winters to paint the landscape. Barkley Hendricks passed away on April 18, 2017.
- Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool: Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, February 7, 2008 - July 13, 2008; Studio Museum in Harlem, November 12 - March 15, 2009; Santa Monica Museum of Art, May 16 - August 22, 2009; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, October 17 - Jan 3, 2010; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, January 30 - April 18, 2010.
- The Armory Show, New York, March 3 - 6, 2011 / Jack Shainman Gallery
- Identity Shifts, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, April 27, 2014 - July 26, 2014
- Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, Trevor Schoonmaker, editor, Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC, 2008, plate 20.