1938 (Durham, North Carolina)
Often Known For
African-American figure, genre and sports painting
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|Biography from RoGallery.com:|
|Ernie Barnes' involvement with art began at an early age; however, when he reached high school his creative endeavors were temporarily detoured in his determination to become a successful athlete. In part this change was a response to the demands of peer pressure, which can be so strong at that age. He graduated from his high school a hero and star football player, and with a choice of 26 full athletic scholarships. He chose North Carolina Central University and a major in art. After college, he continued in a professional athletic career, but never let his love for football overshadow his love for art. Football gave him an enormous satisfaction of achievement, of being able to do something extremely difficult, and do it well. Art, however, allowed him the privilege to interpret for the public his concepts of the relationship between art and life.|
In 1966, Ernie Barnes retired from football to commit himself to his art. His athletic career made a special contribution to his sensibility and his art, and he often weds physical with artistic expression. Many of his subjects are satirical, and he uses exaggeration, and even caricature, to enhance their mood, humor and physical vitality. Usig dramatic-comic vision, Barnes hopes that human figures will play out their roles in a contemporary scenario in a manner that is both entertaining and finely executed.
* INDIVIDUAL EXHIBITIONS 1979
o North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina
o City Museum, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
o Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Center, Brooklyn, N.Y
o North Carolina Central University, Durham, North Carolina
o Museum of African Arts, Washington, D.C.
o High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia
o Science and Industry Museum, Los Angeles, Cal.
o Elizabeth City State University, Elizabeth City, North Carolina
o Agra Gallery, Washington, D.C.
o Mckenzie Gallery, Los Angeles, California
o Mckenzie Gallery, Los Angeles, California
o Grand Central Art Gallery, New York
* PERMANENT COLLECTIONS
*The Estate of Ambassador John Akar, Sierra Leone, West Africa
* Secretary of the Army and Mrs. Clifford Alexander, Washington, D.C.
* Mr. and Mrs. Harry Belafonte, New York
* Mr. and Mrs. Joey Bishop, Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. and Mrs. Julian Bond, Atlanta, Georgia
* The Honorable and Mrs. Tom Bradley, Los Angeles, California
* The Honorable John Conyers, Detroit, Michigan
* Mr. and Mrs. William Cosby, Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. and Mrs. Howard Cosell, New York
* Mr. and Mrs. Sammy Davis, Jr., Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. Alex Haley, Los Angeles, California
* The Honorable James Hawkins, Durham, North Carolina
* Mr. and Mrs. Charlton Heston, Beverly Hills, California
* The Honorable Maynard Jackson, Atlanta, Georgia
* Mrs. Ethel Kennedy, McLean, Virginia
* Mr. and Mrs. Steve Lawrence, Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. and Mrs. Norman Lear, Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. and Mrs. Dick Martin, Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. and Mrs. Dean Martin, Beverly Hills, California
* The Honorable H.M. Michaux, Durham, North Carolina
* Mr. and Mrs. Jack Murphy, San Diego, California
* Mr. Ryan O'Neill, Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. Jack Palance, Malibu, California
* Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Poitier, Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. Burt Reynolds, Bel Air, California
* Mr. Richard Roundtree, Beverly Hills, California
* Ms. Diana Ross, New York
* Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Ruben, Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. and Mrs. Tom Sarnoff, Beverly Hills, California
* Ms. Dina Shore, Beverly Hills, California
* Mr. and Mrs. William Sullivan, Boston, Massachusetts
* Mr. Flip Wilson, Malibu, California
|Biography from The Johnson Collection:|
|Well known in both the professional sports and visual arts worlds, Ernie Barnes’s experience as an athlete was pivotal to his development as a painter of rhythm and movement. He has been celebrated as “the most expressive painter of sports since George Bellows.” In his own words, Barnes’s sports paintings and tavern scenes offer “a pictorial background for an understanding into the aesthetics of black America.” Though he is not recognized as a participant within the Black Movement of the 1960s, as some of his contemporaries have been, Barnes nonetheless overcame numerous obstacles to realize his artistic ambitions.|
Born in Durham, North Carolina during the Jim Crow years, Barnes did not have access to art museums. Instead, he familiarized himself with artistic movements in the personal library of his mother’s prominent employer. Bullied because of his weight as a youth, Barnes sought acceptance through athletics and relied on art as a means of personal expression. In 1956, Barnes enrolled in North Carolina Central University on a football scholarship and pursued a degree in art. Though he enjoyed a successful career in the National Football League from 1959 to 1966, Barnes never stopped painting.
Ed Wilson, sculpting professor at North Carolina Central University, taught Barnes to feel his movements while playing football and express that feeling in his work—a lesson Barnes never forgot. Barnes’s paintings, populated as they are with elongated figures reminiscent of Parmigianino’s or Michelangelo’s later work, have been described as Neo-Mannerist. Other scholars have pointed to his use of visual rhythm to sublimate physical tension as evidence of Black Romanticism.
Barnes explained that he painted his expressive, gesturing figures with their eyes closed in reference to society’s preoccupation with skin color and general blindness to the inner essence of the individual. Refusing to forget his Southern familial origins, Barnes finished his paintings with frames made of distressed wood inspired by the ramshackle fence that encircled his childhood home in Durham. It is an addition that Barnes believed his father, an uneducated shipping clerk who passed away before his son’s first solo exhibition, would have appreciated.
After retiring from his professional football career, Barnes became the official artist of the NFL and, later, the 1984 Olympics. He details his transition from professional athlete to artist in his autobiography From Pads to Palette, published in 1995. Barnes’s tavern scenes are as celebrated as his sports paintings. Sugar Shack, circa 1970, was featured on the television show Good Times and, following some alterations, became the cover design for Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album, I Want You. Barnes received numerous awards for his paintings, which continue to appear in exhibitions nationwide and are held in prominent private collections, as well as the California African American Museum.
He died from a rare blood disorder in 2009. And, as he had requested, a portion of his ashes were spread over the site of his family’s home in Durham.
The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
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