“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.”
– Ernie Barnes
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Ernest Eugene Barnes, Jr. (July 15, 1938 – April 27, 2009) was an African-American painter born in Durham, North Carolina. He is well known for his unique style of elongation and movement, particularly the paintings featured on the tv show Good Times.
Barnes credits his college art instructor Ed Wilson for laying 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.”
All his life, Barnes was ambivalent about his football experience. In interviews and in personal appearances, Barnes said he hated the violence and the physical torment of the sport. However, his years as an athlete gave him unique, in-depth observations. “(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. I hate to think had I not played sports what my work would look like.’
Barnes’ first painting sale was in 1959 for $90 to Boston Celtic Sam Jones for a painting called Slow Dance. It was subsequently lost in a fire at Jones’ home.
Critics have defined Barnes’ work as neo-mannerist. Based on his signature use of serpentine lines, elongation of the human figure, clarity of line, unusual spatial relationships, painted frames, and distinctive color palettes, art critic Frank Getlein credited Barnes as the founder of the neo-Mannerism movement – because of the similarity of technique and composition prevalent during the 16th century, as practiced by such masters as Michelangelo and Raphael.