News Register for our weekly news digest here.

Geoffrey Hendricks (1931–2018)

Geoffrey Hendricks, whose enduring portrayals of sky in paintings, installations, and performances earned him the moniker “Cloudsmith,” died on May 12 at age eighty-six. Hendricks became affiliated with the avant-garde Fluxus collective in the mid-1960s, a participation that informed his work as much as his Quaker upbringing, curiosity in Zen Buddhism, rural connection, and early exposure to John Cage did. Among those Hendricks is survived by are his husband, the artist Sur Rodney (Sur), and his former wife, the artist Nye Ffarrabas (née Beatrice Forbes).

Born in 1931 in Littleton, New Hampshire, and raised in Chicago, Hendricks developed an early affinity for nature, summering with his family at a farm in Marlboro, Vermont, that his parents would later turn into Marlboro College. After graduating in 1953 from Amherst College—where his father, Walter, had been a protégé of Robert Frost—Hendricks moved to New York City, where he would remain throughout his life. Hendricks had already gotten to know the New York art world as an undergraduate through trips to the Eighth Street Artist Club talks, where he attended Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing” performance in 1950.

During his first years in New York, Hendricks taught art to chronically ill patients in the Bronx from 1953 to 1955. He became associated with Fluxus about a decade later, and would be present at a number of Fluxus rites, including George Maciunas’s “Flux Mass, Flux Sports, Flux Show” at Rutgers University in 1970; his own Flux Divorce from his wife Beatrice Forbes in 1971; and a Fluxwedding in New York in 1978 between Maciunas and Billie Hutching.

It was in 1965 that Hendricks began incorporating sky imagery into his works, so much that fellow Fluxus artist Dick Higgins—coiner of the term “intermedia”—nicknamed him “Cloudsmith.” Hendricks painted sky—often evoked in vivid blues and sunstruck cumulus—on canvases, boots, laundry, ladders, cars, guns, and stairwells, among other everyday objects. Hendricks published a book titled Sky Anatomy in 1985 and a collection of watercolor cards, 100 Skies, in 1993. Perhaps the most recognized (though uncredited) of all of Hendricks’s skies is the one that appears on the cover of John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band’s 1969 album Live Peace in Toronto. In 1977, one critic described his art in these pages as “correct answers to ninth-century Zen koans.” The artist said his fascination with the sky originated with the death of his sister Cynthia, who died when Hendricks was five.  

Hendricks’s art has been featured in numerous international exhibitions, including, most recently, in “More Than 100 Skies,” which was on view at the Fondation du Doute in France from May to November of last year. In addition to artmaking, he taught at Rutgers University, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Austria, among other places. In 2003, he edited Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia, and Rutgers University, 1958–1972, a record of the largely ephemeral art being made both in New York and at Rutgers University. The book serves as a catalogue for an exhibition of the same name, which was curated by Hendricks and staged at the Mead Art Museum in Amherst that same year.