see.culture.made.radical: the visual history makers – ernie barnes

February 3, 2014

Ernest Eugene Barnes, Jr., aka Ernie Barnes (July 15, 1938 – April 27, 2009), is “considered one of the leading African-American painters and is well-known for his unique style of elongation and movement, Ernie Barnes was also a former professional football player, actor and author”. He was born during the Jim Crow era in “The Bottom” community of Durham, North Carolina. “A self-described chubby and unathletic child, Barnes was taunted and bullied by classmates. He continually sought refuge in his sketchbooks, hiding in the less-traveled parts of campus away from the other students.”
“Barnes credits his college art instructor Ed Wilson for laying the foundation for his development as an artist. Wilson was a sculptor who instructed Barnes to paint from his own life experiences. “He made me conscious of the fact that the artist who is useful to America is one who studies his own life and records it through the medium of art, manners and customs of his own experiences.”

All his life, Barnes was ambivalent about football. In interviews and in personal appearances, Barnes said he hated the violence and the physical torment of the sport. However, his years as an athlete gave him unique, in-depth observations. “(Wilson) told me to pay attention to what my body felt like in movement. Within that elongation, there’s a feeling. And attitude and expression. I hate to think had I not played sports what my work would look like.”

Barnes’ first painting sale was in 1959 for $90 to Boston Celtic Sam Jones for a painting called “Slow Dance.” It was subsequently lost in a fire at Jones’ home.

Critics have defined Barnes’ work as neo-mannerist. Based on his signature use of serpentine lines, elongation of the human figure, clarity of line, unusual spatial relationships, painted frames, and distinctive color palettes, art critic Frank Getlein credited Barnes as the founder of the neo-Mannerism movement because of the similarity of technique and composition prevalent during the 16th century, as practiced by such masters as Michelangelo and Raphael.”
(source) – Images © Ernie Barnes