LOS ANGELES was a site of inspiration and productivity for a number of artists represented in the forthcoming African-American Fine Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries in New York. (Originally planned for April 2, the auction was postponed due to COVID-19. Rescheduled for June 4, the sale is online only.) The sale features lots by Charles White (1918-1979), David Hammons, Samella Lewis, Suzanne Jackson, ABDU, Richmond Barthé (1901-1989), and Kerry James Marshall, artists active in the city during significant periods of their careers.

There are also five paintings by Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) in the auction. The athlete-turned-artist lived and worked in Los Angeles until his death at age 70.


Lot 76: ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009), “New Shoes,” circa 1970 (acrylic on cotton canvas, 57 x 610 mm / 18 x 24 inches). | Estimate $20,000-$30,000. SOLD FOR $68,750 fees included


Swann describes an untitled collage work from 1965 as the earliest work by Hammons to come to auction. The work depicts a black man’s fists raised and appearing shackled. Demonstrating the wry humor for which Hammons is known, the work was a wedding gift from the artist to the owner. The two were roommates when they attended Los Angeles Community College in 1964.

A student of White and peer of Hammons, Jackson owned and operated Gallery 32 in Los Angeles from 1974 to 1976. Hammons was among the exhibiting artists at the short-lived gallery, which was at the center of the city’s black art scene at the time, along with Brockman Gallery. “High Frost” (1992), an abstract painting by Jackson is offered in the sale. Today, Jackson is based in Savannah, Ga.

LEWIS, 96, IS A PIONEERING ARTIST, educator, and arts activist. She was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D., in art history (Ohio State University, 1951) and became the first chair of the fine arts department at Florida A&M University in 1953.

Early on in Los Angeles, Lewis was as an education coordinator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1969). During her one-year tenure at LACMA, she lobbied in vain for exhibition opportunities for African American artists. In subsequent years, Lewis went on to open three art galleries in Los Angeles and established the city’s Museum of African American Art in 1976. The museum still operates in a space inside Macy’s at the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza.

An enterprising figure in the Los Angeles art community, Lewis maintained a parallel presence as an educator, teaching at California State University at Long Beach and Dominguez Hills, and eventually Scripps College in Claremont (1969-1984), where she is an emeritus professor.

Lewis also co-founded the International Review of African American Art (1976), a quarterly publication operating for more than four decades, since 1992 under the auspices of Hampton University Museum. In addition, she authored several books, including “Barthé: His Life in Art” about the sculptor who spent his final years in Pasadena, Calif.

A painting and two figurative prints by Lewis and three sculptures by Barthé are featured in the auction. One of the works, a cast bronze sculpture titled “Feral Benga” (1935/1986), was originally acquired by Lewis directly from Barthé, before going to an Atlanta collector who consigned it for the forthcoming sale.


Lot 74: ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009), “In the Beginning,” circa 1970 (acrylic on cotton canvas, with artist built frame; 457 x 610 mm / 18 x 24 inches canvas, 635 x 762 mm / 25 x 30 with frame). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. SOLD for $ 57,500 fees included


The sale also includes a 1981 poster by Marshall promoting the South Central Los Angeles Folklife Festival in Exposition Park. Born in Birmingham, Ala., Marshall grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. In the fifth grade, he visited his first museum: LACMA. Marshall earned a BFA from the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles (1978) where he was a student of White. The legendary instructor became a mentor and friend to the younger artist, who spent the 1980s in New York, before making Chicago his home base.

BARNES WAS ALSO BORN IN THE SOUTH and eventually spent most of his artistic years in Los Angeles, where his collector base included prominent figures in Hollywood and the music industry. His subjects spanned the sports world, where he played professional football, and scenes of African American life in the segregated South, where he grew up in Durham, N.C.

In 1965, Barnes retired from football and had his first solo exhibition a year later at Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City (1966). The paintings offered in Swann’s auction were produced in 1969 and 1970, the years following his solo debut.

The works exemplify his style, conveying a sense of movement and energy in his figures. Focused on sports and gaming, they explore familiar themes in the artist’s oeuvre. Barnes also creates a narrative scene among African American men that depicts another form of competition. As one man proudly struts in his “New Shoes,” those gathered on the sidewalk in his path look on with a mix of approval, nonchalance, and envy.

In subsequent years, Barnes organized his own traveling exhibition, “The Beauty of the Ghetto,” from 1972 to 1979, and made his famous “The Sugar Shack” (1976) painting, which was featured on the 1970s television show “Good Times.”

All of the Barnes paintings up for auction were acquired directly from the artist and consigned for sale from a private collection in Los Angeles. CT


PLEASE NOTE: Check directly with Swann for up-to-date information regarding auction sales and scheduling, given the widespread postponements and cancellations resulting from the COVID-19 situation


UPDATE (05/13/20): Swann announced the sale is rescheduled for June 4, 2020 @ 1 p.m. ET, online only (with order and phone bid options)

UPDATE (03/18/20): Swann announced it is postponing upcoming auctions and exploring options for restoring the schedule as soon as possible, including “remotely run live sales and online-only timed auctions.”


FIND MORE about Ernie Barnes on his website


READ MORE about facts and analysis around gaining resale royalty rights from auction sales for artists and their estates


Lot 78: ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009), “Race Horses,” circa 1970 (acrylic on cotton canvas, 610 x 914 mm / 24 x 36 inches. | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. SOLD for $25,000 fees included


Lot 77: ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009), “Pool Hustlers,” circa 1969 (acrylic on cotton canvas, with artist built frame; 1016 x 762 mm / 40 x 30 inches canvas; 889 x 1130 mm / 44 1/2 x 35 inches with frame). | Estimate $25,000-$35,000. SOLD for $55,000 fee included


Lot 75: ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009),” Marble Shooter,” 1969 (acrylic on cotton canvas, 508 x 813 mm / 20 x 32 inches). | Estimate $25,000-$35,000. Sold for $45,000 fees included


“Pads to Palette,” is an autobiographical volume by Ernie Barnes. Alongside illustrations of his work, the artist recounts his childhood in Durham, N.C., football experiences including the segregated AFL and early NFL years, and the start of his art career with his first gallery exhibition. Published in 2007, “A Tribute to Artist and NFL Alumni Ernie Barnes: His Art & Inspiration” commemorates a New York City exhibition hosted by Time Warner and the National Football League. A children’s book, “Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery,” was published in 2018.


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