Description

    ERNIE BARNES (American, 1938-2009)
    Sidewalk Scene with Graduate
    Oil on canvas
    24 x 48 inches (61.0 x 121.9 cm)
    Signed lower right: ERNIE BARNES

    PROVENANCE:
    The artist;
    Orr's Gallery, San Diego, California;
    Dr. James A. Bronner, San Diego, California, purchased from the above, circa 1974;
    Private collection, Sherman Oaks, California, by descent from the above.

    EXHIBITED:
    Orr's Gallery, San Diego, California, "The Beauty of the Ghetto," 1974.

    Ernest "Ernie" Eugene Barnes, Jr. is among the most celebrated African-American painters of the twentieth century who, in addition to his distinguished artistic career, achieved distinction as a professional athlete, author, and actor. As an artist, Barnes is noted for his figural scenes of African-American life that often employ social commentary along with a unique style featuring elongated, caricature-like figures, imbuing his compositions with a sense of physical vitality and rhythmic movement.

    Sidewalk Scene with Graduate is an important work from Barnes' oeuvre, and depicts a young African-American man in graduation gown and mortarboard, holding his diploma while striding confidently down a city sidewalk populated with lively urban dwellers. The young man's attention seems directed away from the inner-city activities of his neighbors, and toward his academic accomplishment and the future that lies ahead of him. Heightening the drama of the scene is a discarded newspaper on the sidewalk whose headline reads "Cost of Living Skyrockets." Reflective of the era in which this work was created, this inspiring narrative created by Barnes still resonates today not only for the youth in the inner cities of America, but for every young graduate who strives to succeed in a society filled with obstacles and distractions.

    Barnes is perhaps best known by mainstream audiences for his popular painting Sugar Shack, which he created in the early 1970s and featured alongside the present work in a groundbreaking solo exhibition titled "Beauty of the Ghetto." Sugar Shack features a crowded African-American dance floor set in the South during the late 1960s or early 70s. Due to its soulful subject matter and vibrant appeal, the iconic work gained international exposure when it was used on the Good Times television series and as the cover of a 1976 Marvin Gaye album. According to Barnes, Sugar Shack derives from a yearning of his childhood in the segregated South, during which he was not able to attend dances. Barnes stated, "Sugar Shack ...transmits rhythm so the experience is re-created in the person viewing it. To show that African-Americans utilize rhythm as a way of resolving physical tension." (Interview, Soul Museum: "Ernie Barnes," Retrieved on October 26, 2010) The sinuous and rhythmic depiction of the body in Sugar Shack, as well as the theme of the African-American experience in mid-twentieth century America, are both echoed directly in the present work.

    Barnes credits his college art instructor Ed Wilson for providing the foundation for his development as an artist. Wilson was a sculptor who instructed Barnes to paint from his own life experiences. "He made me conscious of the fact that the artist who is useful to America is one who studies his own life and records it through the medium of art, manners and customs of his own experiences." (Durham Morning Herald. November 1, 1973). Barnes' years as a professional NFL football player would provide him a unique approach to representing the figure. "(Wilson) told me to pay attention to what my body felt like in movement. Within that elongation, there's a feeling. And attitude and expression. " (Interview, "Our World with Black Enterprise")

    The social and political climate of the late 1960s and early 70s deeply inspired Barnes' artistic vision. As the Civil Rights and the Black Pride movements gained ground, Barnes produced positive and uplifting depictions of African-American culture. The artist's vision was realized in 1971 through his solo exhibition of thirty-five paintings, "The Beauty of the Ghetto," in which the present work was included, and that toured major American Cities from 1972 to 1979. Dignitaries, athletes, and celebrities, including Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the Hon. Jack Kemp, and Ethel Kennedy, each hosted showings of the works. Of the exhibition, Barnes said, "I am providing a pictorial background for an understanding into the aesthetics of black America. It is not a plea to people to continue to live there (in the ghetto) but for those who feel trapped, it is...a challenge of how beautiful life can be." (The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, September 16, 1973)


    Condition Report*:

    Original canvas; light surface grime; no visible restorations under UV exam Framed Dimensions 24.75 X 48.75 Inches

    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    November, 2012
    15th Thursday
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