Sedrick Huckaby brings texture to themes of family, community, anonymity, and personhood in monumental oil paintings now featured in an intimate eponymous exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art.
The Texas artist paints homages to the connective tissue that binds people in his family and his Fort Worth community. Huckaby employs the use of multiple canvases to demonstrates the strength of that bind as well as its inherent fragility. With subjects ranging from anonymous people to a former United States president, Huckaby’s portraits represent the soul that lies within the image of a person, regardless of status.
The triptych “Sonadores” documents a portrait of an anonymous family — and notably separates the children, each in their own framed picture, from the parents. Tenderly considered yet ostentatiously presented, Huckaby’s strokes of oil and decorative frames give a grandeur to this family. And though we don’t know them, their story, or even their names, the artist offers insight into what their lives might be like through his presentation. There is a nobility to their posture and framing, but a pang of sadness to their disconnectedness: You could easily remove one of the children from the collection without any remnant of their loss left behind.
The title, which means “dreamers” in English, harkens to the DACA immigration program, which helps protect children of immigrants without legal documentation in the United States. As a piece of legislation, DACA has been challenged by previous administrations. And though it is currently in place under President Joe Biden, the separation of children from their parents is starkly felt as a feared reality for many.
Huckaby defines family with a soft focus. For families that have been historically and presently separated, togetherness can feel like a fragile concept. But it is often through separation, or the threat of separation, that community become something much larger and stronger than circumstances might naturally afford.
Take for example “The Huckabys,” a series of paintings of people from his hometown who share the same last name. Musing on this random sense of relation, Huckaby finds community amongst the otherwise strangers, a reminder that all bonds are somewhat arbitrary but hold potential for meaningful kinship. Huckaby is the only artist to have ever painted former president George W. Bush from a live sitting and has done so three times. He has also taught Bush techniques in painting. And the former president has gone on to paint a series of immigrant portraits called “Out of One, Many.”
Yet the focus on American immigrants in Bush’s and Huckaby’s work feels in conflict with the former president’s political career. Still, Huckaby levels his subjects on an even playing field. The anonymous portraits are as monumental as the portrait of Bush, and the portrait of Bush is as human as the portraits of the anonymous.
The Blanton exhibition also includes “A Love Supreme (Summer),” a large-scale hyper-realistic painting of hanging quilts patterned after quilts made by his grandmother. At first, the connection between these quilts the portraits on display is unclear. But Huckaby’s quilt paintings deepen the thematic elements at play in his pictures of people. Quilt work, a practice long tied to Southern Black communities, is an expression of people’s ability to fashion togetherness through bits and pieces. Like the patchwork of the artist’s portraits, the quilts reinforce the patchwork that goes into the self-fashioning of an identity.
The entirety of Huckaby’s show is an active reminder that ourselves and our communities are made whole by many the many pieces we stitch and stack together. Some pieces fit, some may be ripped away. But it’s the process of assemblage that creates the potential for something fuller than any individual could be on their own.