ONE OF THE GREATS
Ernest Barnes was born in 1938 during the Jim Crow era in tobacco town of Durham, North Carolina. His mother worked for a prominent attorney when he was a child. Young Ernest would accompany her to work where he was allowed to peruse the extensive collection of art books.
Before he become a great artist, Barnes was a professional football player at lineman position for the New York Titans, San Diego Chargers, and Denver Broncos. His first exhibition of art work was at New York City's Grand Central Art Gallery in 1966.
Ernie Barnes has been called one of the leading sports artists of the modern era. Barnes's own unique experiences have given his canvases an intensity not often found in works of fine art. His figures are muscular, larger than life, and always shown with their eyes closed. Barnes's paintings, depicting all the glory and fear inside the moment of an athletic challenge, have won praise from critics and collectors alike.
Barnes's work became known for several signature elements outside of just the fluid athleticism of his human forms. The faces of these figures were often obscured, and if not, their eyes remained closed. "I won't paint people with their eyes open," Barnes explained to Shah in the New York Times interview. "We don't see each other, we are blind to each other's humanity. Self-help books are the big sellers now. How to take care of yourself." Once accused of confining his talents to African American themes and figures, Barnes eventually settled on a neutral skin shade that was difficult to tag, given the intensity of the background colors. In his effort to show a more indistinct, blurred side of the human color spectrum, "I've tried to find a color that makes people people," he told Shah.
During his first few years as a professional artist, Barnes was unable to paint without people nearby. In the 1973 interview in Ebony, his wife told Robinson that "even when we had company, we'd look around and little by little Ernie would have moved his paints and easel into the living room."
For over 40 years, his neo-mannerism style of art has been admired and collected internationally. His national traveling “Beauty of the Ghetto” exhibition in the 1970s featured some of his timeless works as “Storyteller,” “High Aspirations” and “The Graduate.” His famous 1971 “Sugar Shack” dance scene appeared on the “Good Times” television show and on the Marvin Gaye album “I Want You.” This image has been widely imitated and Barnes’ expressive style has influenced countless aspiring artists.
"My aim is to refresh the heart, to put people in touch with themselves," Barnes explained to Shah in the New York Times interview. "I look at every individual with the hope of finding their basic dignity, humor, kindness and humanity."
Purchase Ernie Barnes art at The Black Art Depot