Wake Up and Paint: John Wesley Hardrick

Updated: Feb 2


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - When I wake up, I need to get going. I need to wake up and paint, paint a picture of my life, my day, my relationships. If I don't paint everyday, sometimes I forget what I want my picture to look like.


It’s not easy to love where you live, but I guess it’s best we try to, try to find a piece of it worth loving enough to care about. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “speak it into existence”, which suggests that we as humans, can essentially will things into happening. It’s like seeing a world in your head, a world that you really see, and rather than keeping it in your head, you paint a picture of it.


Newfields asked me to help participate in their virtual programming for MLK Day this year. The theme was ‘Speaking Love’, and they’re alluding to the ways in which Dr. King spoke love, into existence.


Newfields wanted me to pick a piece of art that I felt went with the theme of ‘Speaking Love’. I chose to concentrate on a painting done by Indianapolis artist John Wesley Hardrick. Hardrick came to my attention last year, I was surprised, but then again not so much, that I had never heard of this guy until I was 25 years old.


John Wesley Hardrick

September 21, 1891 - October 18, 1968



The video below explains what I was asked to do, and how the art in the museum speaks love without saying a word. It also explains my reasons for focusing on Hardrick. (Hint: He's a black guy from Indy, just like me)

To see all the content that I created for Newfields last month, click here and scroll down until you see the photo of Dolly & Rach! (below).


Dolly & Rach

John Wesley Hardrick


“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” - Dr. MLK


The truth is something that seems to escape from history, at least when it comes to some of the forgotten black history across our state. The same history that I run around telling so many of you about. If I don't paint these pictures, we may forget what they look like.


AAREG - Hardrick was from Indianapolis, IN, where he lived his entire life. He studied painting, sculpture, and drawing from 1910 to 1918 at the John Herron Art Institute under William Forsyth and Otto Stark. Beginning in 1928 Hardrick exhibited his work with the Harmon Foundation for five years, winning recognition for his realistic and expressive portraits of African Americans.


Hardrick's first exhibition was in 1904 and it was at the Negro Business League convention. Hardrick was 13 years old and was already being recognized as one of the best painters in the state of Indiana, and he was black, it was the early 1900's. Hardrick would go on to learn from William Forsyth and Otto Stark, and if you've seen any of Forsyth/Stark's depictions of Indiana, or T.C. Steele's for that matter, I would say Hardrick's work belongs right next to theirs. I've wrote about Steele before.

William J. Forsyth was an American Impressionist painter who was part of the "Hoosier Group" of Indiana artists. Forsyth was the first student of the Indiana School of Art in Indianapolis and entered the Munich Academy along with T. C. Steele and J. Ottis Adams in 1882.


Otto Stark was an American Impressionist painter muralist, commercial artist, printmaker, and illustrator from Indianapolis, Indiana, who is best known as one of the five Hoosier Group artists. Stark's work clearly showed the influence of Impressionism, and he often featured children in his work.


Now back to Hardrick, or to King, both were recognized as prodigy's at a young age, Martin Luther King Jr. went to college at the age of 15. Just as Hardrick would paint the world he lived in, the world he saw, King decades later would go on to speak about a world that might just be as beautiful as the pictures Hardrick would paint. I love how Hardrick painted the outdoors, simply because that's something that we have little control over.

Fly Fishing, Fall Creek (Indiana)

John Wesley Hardrick


Winter Landscape

John Wesley Hardrick


AA Registry - Hardrick painted mainly portraits, figure composition, and landscapes. He also painted murals at several high schools and churches in and around his home town. He was also displayed at the Smithsonian in 1929, and at the American Negro Exposition in Chicago in 1940.


The Distant Hills

John Wesley Hardrick



Boy Fishing

John Wesley Hardrick


For a time Hardrick shared an art studio located at 542 1/2 Indiana Avenue, and just as he was starting to gain more and more notoriety for his work, the financial burden of the Great Depression quickly spread across the country. Some of Hardrick's most iconic work was either lost or never displayed.


I like to work outside, on the Avenue, it's become my favorite place to be in the world. It's where, through words, I've painted some of my best pictures. Some of my best work is yet to come, but I've already painted the picture.

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