ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)
ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)
ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Prestigious American Collection
ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)


ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)
signed 'ERNIE BARNES' (lower right)
acrylic on canvas, in artist's frame
41 1/2 x 23 1/2 in. (105.4 x 59.7 cm.)
Painted in 1979.
Private collection, Los Angeles, acquired directly from the artist
Private collection, Los Angeles, 1986
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Beverly Hills, UTA Artist Space, Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within, November-December 2020.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Further details
This work is included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné prepared by the Ernie Barnes Estate. We would like to thank Luz Rodriguez at the Ernie Barnes Estate for her assistance in cataloguing this work.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Widely-acclaimed for his depictions of athletes and their sport, Ernie Barnes’s oeuvre goes beyond these seemingly niche subjects and serves as an insightful treatise on the conjunction of traditional artforms and African-American experience in the twentieth century. One-On-None is an intimate example of the artist’s adept handling of light and shadow, and brings into sharp focus his flair for composition and dynamic modeling of the human form. Pulling from his own experiences, whether that was being exposed to the energy of a packed dancehall as a child or his time as a professional football player, Barnes is considered to be an pivotal figure in the Black Romantic movement of the 1970s. “By his bravura technique, his artistic finesse, his elongations and distortions, his disregard of the confinements of anatomy, his dismissal of classical spatial relationships, Barnes has transformed the everyday happenings of 20th century society into the fierce, elemental and forceful components of a new symbolism, at once barbarously powerful and exquisitely beautiful” (J. D’Arcy, “Preface,” in E. Barnes, From Pads to Palette, Waco, 1995, p. 5). Influential to generations of Black artists and audiences who were never able to see themselves depicted in the Western canon, Barnes is celebrated by a wide audience and helped to broach new ground in representative painting.

Rendered on a strikingly vertical canvas, One-On-None highlights Barnes’s ability to infuse his subjects with graceful motion and energy. Set against a background of billowing cumulus clouds, the hyper-elongated form of a barefoot man stretches upward nearly the entire length of the composition. Leaping gracefully upward, he tosses a basketball into a makeshift receptacle affixed to a rudimentary backboard. Wearing a simple white shirt and faded blue jeans, his legs cross in the air while his head tilts back to keep the ball in sight. Focused on an individual playing by himself, the work is a masterful study in figural composition and dynamic lighting. The unique construction might point toward the makeshift equipment that Barnes might have encountered in his youth in North Carolina. More likely though, the tall goal set against the bright sky is meant as a romanticized depiction of specific feelings rather than a given moment. The small house and few trees on the lowered horizon act to boost the upward momentum of the figure’s leap while hinting at a time period without giving specifics. Barnes was known for his studied abstractions of the human figure, and the signature stretching and extension of the limbs infused each scene with a willowy vitality for dramatic effect.

Born in Durham, North Carolina at the height of the Jim Crow era, Barnes was encouraged early on to study art history even though he was not allowed to visit the prominent museums because of segregation. Growing up, he built upon this interest to hone his creative skills while studying the works of artists like Michelangelo and Toulouse-Lautrec. Continuously sketching all the while, he managed to become the captain of his high school football team and was eventually drafted into the National Football League where he played for several franchises. His love of art never ceased, however, and he was actually fined several times for drawing during team meetings. When asked about the crossover between sports and his practice, Barnes noted, “For me, they were both integrating experiences. The disciplines of one are the disciplines of the other. I paid attention to how the body felt like in movement and my effort has been to translate that feeling onto paper or canvas.” (E. Barnes, quoted in: “Interview with Ernie Barnes,” The Soul Museum, August, 2006). Translating the stretch of muscles and the action of the body into paint, works like One-On-None typify Barnes’s sports paintings for which he was so revered.

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