ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)
ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)
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ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)

Cool Quarterback

ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009)
Cool Quarterback
signed 'ERNIE BARNES' (lower right); signed again '© ERNIE BARNES' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
61 x 91.4 cm. (24 x 36 in.)
Painted in 1991
Estate of the artist
Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Andrew Kerps Gallery, Ernie Barnes, exh. cat. New York, 2021 (illustrated, p. 24).
New York, Andrew Kreps Gallery, Ernie Barnes, September-October 2021.

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Lot Essay

'The explosive energy and hulking power of the football player images made an indelible impression upon me. Over the years I found these images etched as sharply in my memory as if I had viewed them only yesterday.' —John Stuart Evans

Ernie Barnes’ Cool Quarterback captures a fiercely dramatic moment where the central football player is caught in between a flurry of elongated limbs crashing into one another. Uniforms are being tugged left and right, arms are extended towards the football and bodies are folding over one another as they are pounded into the dirt and grime of the playing field. The impassioned cries of the crowd can be heard and the sticky stench of sweaty football players wafts out of the painting. Barnes creates a sensory feast for his audience by skilfully portraying a snapshot of human experience, frozen in a moment of stillness before the fate of the game is decided.

As a former professional football player for the NFL, Cool Quarterback is not only an electrifying portrayal of the sport, but also a deeply personal one for the artist. As a self-described chubby and unathletic child, Barnes was often taunted and bullied by his classmates. His sketchbook became a place of refuge and one day, whilst hiding from his bullies, Barnes’ masonry teacher Tommy Tucker, who was also the school’s weightlifting coach, came across the young Barnes’ sketching away and was intrigued by his artistic gift. The two began to discuss Barnes’ aspirations in life and Tucker also shared his own experience of how bodybuilding improved not only his physical strength, but also his outlook on life. This became a pivotal moment in Barnes’ life and by his senior year, he became the captain of the football team and state champion in shot put.

'My first trip to a museum came when I was 18 years old. The occasion was a field trip for art majors to the recently desegregated North Carolina Museum of Art. I recall that as soon as I was inside I felt linked, placed in a school, on a course that I had signed up for long ago and never learned where it was being held. I felt the power of becoming, like the dream was closer within my grasp,' Ernie Barnes said. Despite pursuing a professional career in football, Barnes was always dedicated and determined to be an artist. Growing up in Durham, North Carolina during the Jim Crow era, Barnes was often prohibited from entering the city’s museums. However, this did not stop the young boy from pursuing his interest and instead devoured all the art books in his local school’s library. It was here the young aspiring artist encountered great masters of art history from Michelangelo to Delacroix and Toulouse-Lautrec. When Barnes went on to complete his tertiary education, he studied art at the North Carolina Central University. By 1965, when an injury put an end to his sporting career, Barnes turned his full attention to becoming a painter.

In the electrifying psychological and physical tension of Cool Quarterback, the influence of 16th century school of art can be seen in Barnes’ employment of colours, exaggerated sensuous movements, and a joy of life. In particular the work of Peiter Bruegel the Elder’s The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562), which can be seen as a direct reference to Barnes’ portrayal of his figures caught in a dramatic chiaroscuro of light and shadow. Both artists excel at arranging large numbers of bodies in a small pictorial plane, while still maintaining a path for the eye to travel. In the present work, Barnes guides the viewer’s gaze through the painting via fluid lines of lengthened arms and twisted torsos, each outstretched hand encouraging the eye to traverse across the canvas. Becoming one of the most expressive painters of sports since George Bellows, Barnes’ Cool Quarterback is a masterful work of art with an uplifting sense of hope. Overall, Cool Quarterback serves as a prime example of Barnes’s skill at capturing the full range of tension and vivacity in professional football. In the present work, he captures the excitement and emotional drama of the moment leading up to a potential touchdown by the ever so cool quarterback.

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