Sedrick Huckaby’s New Solo Exhibition at Blanton Museum Features a Portrait of His Student, Former President George W. Bush

 

THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. If you do well you might find yourself in the company of a U.S. President or First Lady. In 2016, Amy Sherald won the competition, becoming the first woman and first Black artist to receive the first place prize. Subsequently, First Lady Michelle Obama selected Sherald to paint her official portrait for the Smithsonian museum.

Fort Worth, Texas, artist Sedrick Huckaby also competed in The Outwin in 2016. He didn’t win, but he was recognized among the top artists. “Sedrick, Sed, Daddy,” the self-portrait he entered, was “commended.”

 


Installation view of “Sedrick Huckaby,” Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, May 29-Dec. 5, 2021. | Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art

 

As it turns out, Huckaby has a White House connection of his own. When former President George W. Bush left the White House, he took up painting. Beginning in 2012, he initially worked on his own, before seeking professional instruction. Bush honed his craft with the help of Huckaby, who has an MFA from Yale, studied in France, Italy and Spain, and is a professor of art and art history at The University of Texas at Arlington.

Bush approached the artist at one of his exhibitions at Valley House Gallery in Dallas and asked if he would be his teacher. Huckaby agreed and the lessons have paid off. Bush’s niche is portraits and he’s published two books showcasing his work: “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants” and “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors” (2017).

Now Huckaby has made a portrait of his high-profile student and it is on display in “Sedrick Huckaby,” his new exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin. The solo show reflects key elements of his practice. Huckaby makes large-scale portraits, oil paintings thick with texture and intense color that add an expressive quality to his depictions of friends, family, and members of the local community.

Focusing on what he calls “the African American family and its heritage,” Huckaby references African American quilt-making traditions in his work. A monumental quilt painting, “A Love Supreme: Summer” (2001-09), is on view in the Blanton Museum exhibition. Stretching 20 feet in length, the work is rife with patterns, symbolism, and folds that play up its dimensionality and textile characteristics.

Quilts also serve as backgrounds in some of Huckaby’s paintings, including “Our Lamentations: Never Forgotten Daddy” (2018). Featured in The Outwin competition in 2019, the portrait of his friend Crystal Baker is a double portrait memorializing her father, a carpenter who died due to complications stemming from a spider bite. The portrait is part of the artist’s Our Lamentations series, which confronts entrenched social justice issues—the disproportionately high death rates in communities of color that result from police brutality, inadequate healthcare, and economic disparities.

 


December 2013: Sedrick Huckaby with former President George W. Bush. The artists are pictured at Valley House Gallery in Dallas, Texas, during the exhibition “Sedrick Huckaby: Everyday Glory” (Dec. 4, 2013-Jan. 11, 2014), standing before Huckaby’s “Hallie – Welcome – Glory,” 2013 (charcoal and CelluClay on canvas on panel, 89 x 94 inches). | Photo: Valley House Gallery

 

At the Blanton Museum, Huckaby is presenting a tight selection of 12 paintings. A grouping of six portraits, including a self portrait of the artist, depicts “The Huckabys,” people from Fort Worth who share the same last name, but are not directly related to each other.

Bush’s portrait is a tightly focused headshot that gives a glimpse of plain white t-shirt. He gazes directly at the viewer, looking more ordinary than powerful, like the Bush some of his detractors have warmed to in his post-White House years—the artist and buddy to Michelle Obama—rather than the controversial war president whose two terms in office were largely defined by his responses to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

Huckaby works with live sitters. To his knowledge, the portrait of Bush is the only one for which the former President actually sat, according to Texas Monthly. (Even his official White House portrait wasn’t painted live. It is based on photographs.) The portrait in the exhibition is one of three Huckaby has made of Bush.

Despite their seemingly divergent political views, the generally “Democratic-leaning” Huckaby calls Bush “an ideal student” who is open to instruction and said he was was encouraged by his dedication, his “seriousness with art and how he really wanted to learn,” according to People magazine.

Overtime, his skills have continued to improve, Huckaby said. Now a prolific painter, Bush’s bestselling volumes collect his portraits of American immigrants and military veterans, exploring their journeys and contributions and honoring their service and sacrifices.

“I thought, it’s a good thing,” Huckaby told the magazine. “No matter who the person is—if it was a Republican president, Democratic president, whatever—a president making paintings to me is a good thing. And if he’s really interested in honestly wanting to do that? I thought, well, let’s see. Let’s see what’s going on.” CT

 

“Sedrick Huckaby” is on view at the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, May 29-Dec. 5, 2021

 

FIND MORE about Sedrick Huckaby on his website

 

ON VIEW In addition to Sedrick Huckaby’s exhibition, the Blanton Museum is currently presenting “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite”

 


SEDRICK HUCKABY, “A Love Supreme: Summer,” 2001–09 (oil on canvas, 92 x 240 inches). | © Sedrick Huckaby, Photo courtesy the artist

 


SEDRICK HUCKABY, “George Walker Bush,” 2017 (oil on canvas on panel, 48 x 54 inches). | © Sedrick Huckaby, The Harlan R. Crow Family. Photo by Justin Clemons

 


Installation view of “Sedrick Huckaby,” Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, May 29-Dec. 5, 2021. | Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art

 


Installation view of “Sedrick Huckaby,” Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, May 29-Dec. 5, 2021. Shown, “The Huckabys.” | Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art

 


Installation view of “Sedrick Huckaby,” Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, May 29-Dec. 5, 2021. | Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art

 


SEDRICK HUCKABY, “Sonadores (Three Pieces),” 2018 (oil on canvases, overall: 72 x 72 inches). | © Sedrick Huckaby, The Harlan R. Crow Family. Photo by James Wilson

 


SEDRICK HUCKABY, “Filthy Rags of Splendor,” 2011 (oil on canvas on panel, 108 x 108 inches). | Photo courtesy of artist

 


Installation view of “Sedrick Huckaby,” Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, May 29-Dec. 5, 2021. | Photo courtesy Blanton Museum of Art

 

BOOKSHELF
Portraits by Sedrick Huckaby are featured in “The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2016: American Portraiture Today” and “The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today.”

 

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