A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYER who became a successful artist, Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) made paintings about what he experienced and what was familiar. His most frequent subjects were African American life in the South, referencing his North Carolina roots, and racially diverse athletes engaged in all manner of sports, from tennis and boxing, to basketball and football, which Barnes played professionally in the NFL (1960-1964) and Canadian Football League (1965).

“Ernie Barnes: Works, 1961-2003” brings together a selection of the artist’s football images, 14 paintings and drawings spanning four decades are featured at 55 Walker Street, where the exhibition is organized by Andrew Kreps Gallery in collaboration with Ales Ortuzar and the artist’s estate.

 


ERNIE BARNES, “Climatic Conditions,” 1995 (acrylic on canvas, 48 × 60 inches / 121.9 × 152.4 cm). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust, Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 

Known for his figurative scenes, Barnes worked hard at mastering his depiction of the human body and its complex form, a talent readily on display in his sports images. He rendered his subjects in a neo-mannerist style. His elongated figures often have a lithe physique. In his football images, Barnes emphasizes, and sometimes exaggerates, the muscularity of his body forms. The effect exudes strength, energy, and movement in his figures.

“The Sugar Shack II” (1976) and “Stored Dreams” (1962-94), two paintings that are foundational to the artist’s practice are among the works on display, but not for sale. “The Sugar Shack II” is a version of his famous painting featured on the television show “Good Times” and one of two images in the exhibition that are not football related. (The other is “Study for Steps,” 1998.) Barnes’s twin pursuits are in evidence in “Stored Dreams.” The still life locker scene depicts a football helmet and cleats alongside a hefty art history book, a sketching, and paint brushes.

Barnes published a memoir in 1995. He opens “From Pads to Palette” with a self-reflective account of the role of football in his life and what being in artist means to him.

“I disclaim at the beginning of this book any pretension to grandeur in athletics. I was not an All-Pro and I do not expect [to] be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s safe to say that were it not for the discovery of my drawings and sketches, any dissection of my career would have been unnecessary. However, for five years of my life I was a professional football player. An offensive guard who dueled in that hell hole called “the pit,” the imaginary cleavage in football called the line of scrimmage where violence is an acceptable display of emotions,” Barnes wrote.

“It may seem incongruous to you, the reader, but throughout my five seasons in the arena of professional football, I remained at the deepest level of my being—an artist. I found no dichotomy in the duality of my abilities. I suspect because the same qualities which make a successful football player are the same found in a successful artist. Dedication, single-mindedness, discipline and skill. ”

He continued: “Today, thirty years since I wore a uniform, I am the artist I dreamed of becoming when I was bumping heads in the arena. The rewards are similar. Recognition, celebrity, wealth, the admiration and envy of others in the field, publicity, fans, public exhibition of skill and so on. But the greatest reward of all is the fact that I am in touch with my feelings and sensibilities as a human being.”

“Throughout my five seasons in the arena of professional football, I remained at the deepest level of my being—an artist. I found no dichotomy in the duality of my abilities. I suspect because the same qualities which make a successful football player are the same found in a successful artist.” — Ernie Barnes, From Pads to Palette

Several works on view in the exhibition are illustrated in “From Pads to Palette,” including “Study Sketch: Player Running Holding Ball” (1963), “Blood Conference aka Three Red Linemen” (1966), “From the Pocket” (1990), “Fumble in the Line” (1990), “Climactic Conditions” (1995), and “Stored Dreams.”

Barnes lived and worked in Los Angeles for most of his artistic career. His first solo exhibition anywhere was at Grand Central Art Galleries in New York in 1966. Nearly 25 years later, his traveling exhibition “Beauty of the Ghetto” was presented at the same gallery (1990). The current gallery exhibition marks the artist’s posthumous return to New York, his first solo show in the city in three decades. CT

 

“Ernie Barnes: Works, 1961-2003” is on view at 55 Walker Street, New York, N.Y., from Sept. 24-Oct. 30, 2021

 


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Works, 1961-2003,” 55 Walker Street, New York, N.Y. (Sept. 24-Oct. 30, 2021). | Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


ERNIE BARNES, “Study for To Know Defeat,” 1979 (acrylic on paper, 38 × 25 inches / 96.5 × 63.5 cm). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust, Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Works, 1961-2003,” 55 Walker Street, New York, N.Y. (Sept. 24-Oct. 30, 2021). Show, at right, “The Sugar Shack II” (1976). | Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


ERNIE BARNES, “The Big Lineman,” 2003 (acrylic on paper, 26 × 20 inches / 66 × 50.8 cm). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust, Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Works, 1961-2003,” 55 Walker Street, New York, N.Y. (Sept. 24-Oct. 30, 2021). | Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


ERNIE BARNES, “Fumble in the Line,” 1990 (acrylic on canvas, 48 × 60 inches / 121.9 × 152.4 cm). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust, Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


ERNIE BARNES, “From the Pocket,” 1990 (acrylic on canvas, 48 × 60 inches / 121.9 × 152.4 cm; framed: 49 × 61 inches / 124.5 × 154.9 cm). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust, Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Works, 1961-2003,” 55 Walker Street, New York, N.Y. (Sept. 24-Oct. 30, 2021). | Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


ERNIE BARNES, “Study Sketch: Player Running Holding Ball,” 1963 (ink on paper; framed: 15 × 15 inches / 38.1 × 38.1 cm. | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust, Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


ERNIE BARNES, “Untitled (Locker Room, Player Sitting),” 1969 (acrylic on canvas, 16 × 20 inches / 40.6 × 50.8 cm). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust, Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Works, 1961-2003,” 55 Walker Street, New York, N.Y. (Sept. 24-Oct. 30, 2021). Shown, from left, “Stored Dreams” (1962-1994) and “Bronco Locker Room” (1982). | Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


ERNIE BARNES, “Bronco Locker Room,” 1982 (acrylic on canvas, 24 × 48 inches / 61 × 121.9 cm; framed: 28 1/2 × 52 1/2 inches / 72.4 × 133.3 cm). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust, Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Works, 1961-2003,” 55 Walker Street, New York, N.Y. (Sept. 24-Oct. 30, 2021). | Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


ERNIE BARNES, “Blood Conference aka Three Red Linemen,” 1966 (acrylic on canvas, 47 × 49 inches / 119.4 × 124.5 cm; framed: 50 × 48 inches / 127 × 121.9 cm). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust, Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Works, 1961-2003,” 55 Walker Street, New York, N.Y. (Sept. 24-Oct. 30, 2021). | Courtesy artist’s estate and Andrew Kreps Gallery

 

BOOKSHELF
“From Pads to Palette” (1995) is an autobiographical volume by Ernie Barnes. Alongside his football sketches and paintings, 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 solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries in New York. 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 chronicling the artist’s life, “Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery,” was published in 2018, with illustrations by Bryan Collier. Another book for children, “Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes,” written and illustrated by Don Tate, was published a few months ago.

 

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