Barkley Hendricks and Alice Neel were friends, and paintings by both artists are included in the exhibition Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection. In this first installment of a new series illuminating connections between artists, portrait subjects, and viewers, Hendricks describes his relationship to Neel and her work.
I’m Barkley Hendricks, and I’m an artist, and I’m standing in front of Alice Neel’s painting of Andy Warhol. Alice was a friend of mine, and I've always liked her work, even though her work was different than mine.
I’m a former professor and I used to tell my students, “stay away from lines.” And if you look at Alice's work, they’re full of lines. I work with oil, acrylics, and Magna, watercolor. I mean she does, you know, work on paper, sketches, and things like that. But for the most part, she works directly on the canvas, and she has a reputation of using blue in her drawing outlines—not just here, but with her other works.
The live model situation has always endeared me to Alice. You can tell that she had people right in front of her. Before I started to rely on my camera, most of my images were done in the studio, where I had a live model. It doesn't make a difference to me who the individual was; this is not because it’s Andy Warhol. It's just another human being sitting there, with an unfortunate situation to have been shot, and exposing himself.
You can read anything you want into a portrait; and you see, that’s just canvas and paint. What your mind brings to a work may not have anything to do with what the artist had in mind. She was quite a personality, and very honest, and open, to the degree that it pissed off a lot of people in the art world. But she was right.