Jack Shainman Gallery will display the late painter’s photographic work, conveying his lighthearted approach to art-making and a glimpse into his immediate world

Barkley L. Hendricks was a pioneer of Black American portraiture—an assertive painter, with a style of his own, bent on depicting friends and strangers alike in life-sized, exacting detail. His subjects stand tall against monochromatic backdrops, dressed in their own clothes. It’s a subversion of the Western canon—culturally of its time, compositionally derived from the old masters—through which ordinary Black people could be foregrounded as subjects, within the gilded halls of fine art.

Tomorrow, at Jack Shainman Gallery, the unseen half of Hendricks’s practice will be put on display. Myself When I Am Real features the artist’s photographic work, cataloged since his passing in 2017—an impression of his immediate environment, playfully-framed and off-the-cuff.

Barkley L. Hendricks. Untitled, c. 1980 silver gelatin LE print. © Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

“While the photos are the basis for Barkley’s portrait paintings, they reveal a little more of his world,” says Elisabeth Sann, director at Jack Shainman. “We really get a sense of what caught his attention and inspired him: playing with composition, and—on a larger scale than in his paintings—highlighting humorous and amusing juxtapositions.”

Hendricks, for instance, had a penchant for shooting mirrors: a way of imbuing self-portrait with context, or of signaling the presence of passersby or lovers, on a side-street or in the bedroom. He’d capture his paintings next to their living subjects, or mannequins or classroom skeletons besides actual sitters—playful studies on the human body. For one series, Hendricks took photos of a television screen at the Dutch Tavern in New London, keeping the composition stable so that only the light of day, the number of chips gone unsold, and the program of the moment was in flux. “Barkley challenges perception, both in the formal sense, and more philosophically, in the way he elevates everyday scenes,” says Sann.

Barkley L. Hendricks. Untitled, 1997 archival inkjet print. © Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Myself When I Am Real sheds new light on Hendricks, and on the spirit of his work. In his photographs, there’s the impression—fleeting, raw—of what would go on to be filtered through the process of painting; from the same source, but fundamentally changed. “He was much more than a portrait painter,” Sann goes on. “Seeing Barkley’s photos will give viewers a deeper understanding of his painting as part of a whole.”

Myself When I Am Real is on view at Jack Shainman Gallery between April 13 and May 26.