ERNIE BARNES (1938 - 2009)
ERNIE BARNES (1938 - 2009)
ERNIE BARNES (1938 - 2009)
ERNIE BARNES (1938 - 2009)
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PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
ERNIE BARNES (1938 - 2009)

Every Night, All Night

Details
ERNIE BARNES (1938 - 2009)
Every Night, All Night
signed 'ERNIE BARNES' (lower right)
oil on canvas
36 x 48in. (91.4 x 121.9cm.)
Painted in 1974
Provenance
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Las Vegas.
Their sale, Heritage Auctions, 5 November 2021, lot 67205.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Interim Acting Head of Department

Lot Essay

Created in 1974, during the heyday of Ernie Barnes’ early practice, Every Night, All Night is a virtuosic work from his iconic series of pool hall paintings. Shrouded in cinematic suspense, it offers a thrilling tapestry of human activity: a love letter to the black communities who were carving their identities in the wake of the Civil Rights movement. At the centre of the painting, a group of figures crowds around a pool table, whose green baized surface is illuminated in the darkness. In the foreground, four men are immersed in a game of cards; another swigs from a bottle in the corner. More people congregate around bright doorways on the balcony above, while two women make their way down the stairs. The work was originally owned by the American singers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé: the latter's name appears on a poster on the wall, alongside others advertising 7Up! lemonade, a boxing match and a dance featuring James Brown. Capturing the zeitgeist of a pivotal moment in American history, it is a vivid evocation of a period in which—as Barnes explained—‘black people were just starting to appreciate themselves as a people’ (E. Barnes, quoted at https://www.opendurham.org/buildings/ernie-barnes-house).

Though Barnes loved art as a child, Jim Crow laws prevented him from entering museums in his native North Carolina. Instead, he devoured the Western canon in books, and subsequently studied art at university. After a short but successful period as a professional footballer, he mounted his sell-out debut exhibition in 1966. While living in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles during the early 1970s, Barnes was struck by the well-documented rituals and customs of his predominantly Jewish neighbours, and realised that he and his own communities ‘were clueless that our own culture had value’ (E. Barnes, ibid.). Rendered in his distinctive Neo-Mannerist style, his paintings of dance halls, pool halls and other places beloved by his friends and family quickly became cultural icons, touring American museums as part of his landmark exhibition Beauty of the Ghetto between 1972 and 1979. His 1971 painting The Sugar Shack, notably, featured on the cover of Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You; elsewhere, musicians including The Crusaders and B. B. King—whose name also appears in the present painting—would include his artwork on their records.

Sports fascinated Barnes as a subject: in 1984, he became the official artist of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. In the present painting, the artist pays minute attention to the physical posturing and micro-interactions of his protagonists: those gathered around the pool table are frozen in a state of amicable suspense, while the card players sit with hunched shoulders and poker faces, haunted by echoes of Bruegel, Caravaggio, Van Gogh and Cézanne. At the same time, however, Barnes’ painting is underpinned by a deeper layer of social commentary. For all its activity, close inspection of the scene reveals figures hidden in the shadows or lingering alone in corners: a man sits with hooded eyes behind the open bathroom door, while another—wounded on crutches—stands with his back to the viewer upon the balcony. Even those seemingly involved in the games, we realise, border on anonymity, their expressions obscured by smoke, hats and other devices. These communities, Barnes reminds us, were long invisible: while a sense of convivial leisure pervades the tableau, spectres of isolation and exclusion are never far away. In the dim halls of the pool club, untold narratives quietly step into the light.
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