December 4, 2020

Envisioned by the Late Artist Himself, New Ernie Barnes Exhibition Brings His Figurative Paintings to Life

By Victoria L. Valentine

Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within” at UTA Artist Space

THEIR INITIAL SIT DOWN was highly productive, a real meeting of minds. Luz Rodriguez manages the estate of artist Ernie Barnes (1938-2009). Arthur Lewis is creative director of UTA Fine Arts & UTA Artist Space. Just over a year ago, the two met for the first time at the suggestion of a mutual friend.

“She sat there and said, ‘I represent his estate. I have x number of paintings. Ernie curated a show before he died. Would you ever be interested in doing this?’” Lewis recalled in an interview with Culture Type.

“And I think after I closed my mouth, because I couldn’t believe this was happening in front of me, I immediately said, ‘Yes,’ and began embarking on this journey to bring Ernie’s last curated exhibition to life and it’s been incredible over this last year prepping for this.”

It was an incredible business meeting that moved both parties because of their personal affinities for the artist and his work. Lewis grew up in awe of Barnes’s art having discovered it watching countless reruns of “Good Times,” the 1970s sitcom. An avid collector of African American art, he had joined United Talent Agency (UTA) just three months earlier in June 2019. After working with Barnes for more than two decades, Rodriguez became manager of the artist’s estate when he died in 2009. A decade later, a collaboration with the talent agency had the potential for broadening the artist’s recognition, growing his audience, and elevating his legacy.

Soon after that first encounter, they inked a deal and started planning exhibitions. UTA began representing the Barnes’s estate in October 2019 and the first exhibition opened a few weeks ago at UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills.

“Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within” was envisioned by the artist himself. He planned an exhibition that included 23 figurative paintings, most of them produced in the final years of his life. The works speak to personal responsibility, the power of community, the strength of Black women, and the dignity and humanity of the African American experience.

A series of vignettes has transformed UTA Artist Space. Arched windows in dark, rustic wood facades provide views of “Sticks and Stones” (2007) and “A Dream Deferred” (1996), images of women persevering and men holding on to hope despite setbacks. “The Sugar Shack” (1976), the iconic Barnes painting that was a fixture on “Good Times,” is installed in another vignette.


ERNIE BARNES, “Sticks and Stones,” 2007 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within,” UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills (Nov. 11, 2020-TBD). | Photo by Andrew Kenney, Courtesy UTA Artist Space

In an adjacent space, a wood staircase ascends right up to the gallery ceiling, a reference to the staircase that appears in “The Sugar Shack.” The steps are outfitted with speakers from which songs by the likes of Marvin Gaye, The Crusaders, and Curtis Mayfield emanate. The playlist is drawn from albums with covers illustrated by Barnes, including Gaye’s “I Want You” (1976) featuring “The Sugar Shack.” Meanwhile, a loop of “Good Times” episodes is playing on a vintage television.

“It started with one very simple premise and it was, ‘How do we convert this space to a live Ernie Barnes painting?’ I think that’s how all of this came to be. So that people could walk in and experience a different version of his practice,” Lewis said.

“It started with one very simple premise and it was, ‘How do we convert this space to a live Ernie Barnes painting?’” — Arthur Lewis

Lewis and Rodriquez have largely realized the show Barnes imagined. His concept forms the basis of “Liberating Humanity From Within,” which includes 16 of the original 23 paintings. They have also introduced additional paintings, several shown publicly for the first time. The selection is mostly drawn from the artist’s estate. A few are on loan from private collectors.

Recalling that first meeting with Lewis, Rodriguez told Culture Type, “I partnered with UTA last year and right off the bat we knew something magical was happening.”

She said the initial discussions included two potential exhibitions—”Liberating Humanity From Within” and a show organized around the theme of women, a prominent subject for Barnes. (Lewis agreed with this more detailed version of events.) At the outset, the plan was to mount the latter first. Then as 2020 unfolded, those expectations were scuttled.

“We had originally planned an exhibition with the theme of women, which would have been incredible, and then of course the plan stalled due to COVID,” Rodriguez said.

“And then, during the summer, with all the stuff that was going on (regarding police killing Black people and the racial justice protests that swept the nation), people would often ask me, ‘What would Ernie Barnes say?’ or ‘How would he paint it?’ And we realized he’d already answered that question with two dozen paintings that he had hand-selected for the exhibition that he called ‘Liberating Humanity From Within.’”

She said Barnes was “very introspective and always reading and thinking.” He was moved by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary, opened his eyes about global warming.

According to Rodriguez, the sentiments of Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda about how art “liberates humanity from within” and “creates value for the greater good and seeing one another with kinder eyes,” inspired the title of the exhibition.

The expanded version of “Liberating Humanity From Within” at UTA Artist Space presents 29 paintings. The show is the first major exhibition since the death of Barnes, more than a decade ago, to offer his paintings for sale. Seventeen were available when the exhibition opened. Of those, 12 are from the original checklist Barnes put together for the exhibition.


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within,” UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills (Nov. 11,2020-TBD). | Photo by Andrew Kenney, Courtesy UTA Artist Space


ERNIE BARNES, “An Inner Strength,” 2007 (acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust

BORN AND RAISED iN DURHAM, N.C., Barnes played football in the NFL for five seasons (1960-64), and then devoted himself full time to his artistic practice. He lived and worked in Los Angeles and painted from experience. Using a neo-mannerist style, his elongated figures are full of life and a sense of movement. He depicted African American life in the segregated South and a variety of sports featuring racially diverse athletes. His Jewish neighbors in Los Angeles inspired some of his images and he also addressed a spectrum of societal issues.

His range is reflected in “Liberating Humanity From Within.” From the original exhibition, “An Inner Strength” (2007) depicts the stem of a crimson rose bud emerging through a crack in the sidewalk. Marveling at the sight and its message of fortitude, a Black man leans in close to observe the oddity.

The painting is displayed at the center of the exhibition, leaning against a stretch of white picket fence, the presentation connects to the artist’s biography. Barnes framed some of his early paintings with weathered wood sourced from the fence that surrounded his family’s home in Durham, where he grew up. The gesture had aesthetic and economic appeal and paid homage to his father who had rigorously maintained the painted fence before he fell ill.

Also from the original checklist, “Icons of Humanity” features a woman in the foreground, rendered in full color, holding a large open book. Behind her, absent of color, iconic historic figures (Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Florence Nightengale, Harriet Tubman, and Abraham Lincoln) are portrayed as statues presumably subjects of the volume she is studying.

In “Habitat,” six male construction workers of various races are shown working together to complete a weighty task, emphasizing the power of diversity and community. “Moral Imperative” (2007) is about climate change and global warming. Athleticism is the focus of “Competitive Spirit” (2005).

Black love is also on display. A painting called “Screen Door” (2007) features a couple standing and embracing just inside a wood-frame screen door, the type that leads out to porches throughout the South and constantly slams throughout the day in the heat of summer. Barnes also depicts couples dancing with passion (“Shakedown,” 2002) and tenderness (“In the Moment,” 2007).

Among the other works, “Honeymoon Sweet” (1975), an early painting on view from the estate, captures a couple gazing at one another. They are nude in a bed with disheveled sheets. The painting is perhaps the most sensual Barnes has produced.


ERNIE BARNES, “Shakedown,” 2002 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 24 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within,” UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills (Nov. 11, 2020-TBD). | Photo by Andrew Kenney, Courtesy UTA Artist Space

“Liberating Humanity From Within” provides visitors with an experience that animates the artist’s oeuvre. Lewis and his team partnered with Playlab, a Los Angeles-based creative studio that describes itself as having “no particular focus.”

Its expansive portfolio includes a multi-site installation of inflatable flowers along Avenue of the Americas in New York City; a floating, self-filtering pool project in New York’s East River; a digital archive for artist Christopher Wool; the exhibition catalog for Virgil Abloh’s “Figures of Speech” retrospective; and Abloh’s Men’s Spring/Summer 2020 runway show for Louis Vuitton.

“Playlab is this genius, genius creative company,” Lewis said. “We were just in conversation about getting to know each other because they recently relocated to Los Angeles. Well, one of the things that came to mind was, ‘Wow. I wonder what would happen if we allowed them to work on this Ernie Barnes project with us?’”

He continued: “So basically we did a deep dive into the history of Ernie and why he did what he did. From using the wood he used to frame them (his paintings), and then even the Durham Armory with those arched windows and all the dark wood that appears in all the paintings. We wanted to bring all of that to life.”

Playlab transformed UTA Artist Space from a white cube into a multi-sensory experience. The vignettes PlayLab installed throughout the space make the greatest impact.

Playlab transformed UTA Artist Space from a white cube into a multi-sensory experience.

In one of the vignettes, “The Sugar Shack” can be seen through one of the windowed wood facades. The lively scene in the painting evokes a rural juke joint with men and women crowding the dance floor. Their movement and raw energy and the sound and enchanting rhythm of live music is palpable. A wood staircase leads to a second level where more club goers flirt, drink, and feel the seductive, soulful beat.

Barnes witnessed this unbridled moment one night in 1952 when he snuck into the Durham Armory. The artist was only 13 at the time and the scene made a lasting impression. More than two decades later, he painted his interpretation of what he saw—depicting all the characters with their eyes closed, their bodies in constant motion—and called it “The Sugar Shack.” Visitors can see what Barnes saw by looking through an arched window where the popular painting is on display.

“So much of Ernie’s early work is recognizable, believe it or not, through music, for some people, so we wanted to create a music experience,” Lewis said.

“Those stairs represent the stairs in ‘The Sugar Shack.’ They have speakers in them that play this amazing playlist and there is a crate with all the album covers that Ernie created. So just really cool and out of the box and a great way to get another glimpse and see who he is. And then last but not least, one of the most fun things I’ve seen, we created these moving dancing screens. All the figures from Sugar Shack are cut out and they are actually dancing in the different poses and you can pose with them in front of the screens.”


The soundtrack, emanating from the wood staircase Playlab installed, was curated by Emmy Award-winning producer and DJ, Niéna Drake. It includes music from the albums for which Ernie Barnes illustrated covers and an exclusive poem by spoken word artist J. Ivy. Installation also features signs similar to those seen hanging in the Durham Armory in the artist’s “The Sugar Shack” painting. Shown, Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within,” UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills (Nov. 11, 2020-TBD). | Courtesy UTA Artist Space


Ernie Barnes painted this work in 1959 at the beginning of his NFL career. It hung in his home over his fireplace until he died. Now it is displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Shown, ERNIE BARNES, “The Bench,” 1959 (acrylic on canvas, 20 x 36 inches. | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust

Rodriguez didn’t see the installation until it was complete. The end result met with her approval. “Oh my gosh. It’s really beautiful. I am extremely impressed. So proud of how they presented it,” she said.

“I think Ernie would be so proud. It’s an experience, actually. There is such a beautiful flow to it. There is so much dimension. I basically gave them the art and the information and Playlab and UTA Fine Arts did their homework on Ernie Barnes.”

“I think Ernie would be so proud. It’s an experience, actually. There is such a beautiful flow to it. There is so much dimension. I basically gave them the art and the information and Playlab and UTA Fine Arts did their homework on Ernie Barnes.” — Luz Rodriguez

She continued: “I entrusted them. I knew UTA Fine Arts. We were in collaboration for the last year. I knew their heart was in the right place and they were going to protect Ernie’s work and they respected it. I didn’t really have any specifics, because I felt like Ernie’s work is just beautiful on its own. I would hear what was going on and creatively I really didn’t want to interfere with their creative process. They really knocked it out of the park. It’s beyond what I would have ever imagined.”

Asked whether she favors a particular painting in the exhibition, Rodriguez immediately said, “All of them, actually.” After giving the inquiry more thought, she named a couple.

“There are two paintings in there. It is very special for them to be together. “The Bench” is the first painting he created at the beginning of his football career in 1959, right before he signed with the Baltimore Colts. It was the quickest one he’s ever done and he’s never touched it,” she said.

“That one hung over his fireplace until he passed away and now hangs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He would never sell that painting. That’s the only football painting (in the exhibition). That’s the only hint that he played football, which he would be pleased to know because he tried to shed the football player-turned-artist and the ‘Good Times’ artist moniker, I think.”

After citing the early work, she mentioned on of his last. “Then there’s a painting that was commissioned by his friend Bill Withers that was unveiled about six months before he (Barnes) passed way,” Rodriguez said.

“It’s called ‘Angel in Training.’ Bill Withers is famous for a song called ‘Grandma’s Hands’ and so it’s a picture of his grandmother praying at a bed. She’s kneeling and around her she has these alphabet blocks. They spell out the word ‘Billy’ around her. To see those two paintings in the show has a special significance to me.”


Bill Withers commissioned this painting from his friend Ernie Barnes. It depicts his grandmother and references his song “Grandma’s Hands.” Barnes completed the painting about six months before he died. Shown, ERNIE BARNES, “Angel in Training,” 2008. | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


ERNIE BARNES, “The Sugar Shack II,” 1976 (acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust

LEWIS GREW UP IN NEW ORLEANS and early on he connected with Barnes’s art through music and television.

“Part of being a latchkey kid is that you went home (from school) by yourself. There were only a few channels, man I am aging myself, that you could watch and basically most of them were reruns. ‘Good Times,’ ‘The Jeffersons,’ ‘All in the Family,’ and ‘Maude.’ Those were the shows. I watched every episode of “Good Times,” Lewis said.

On the air from 1974-79, the sitcom focused on a two-parent family living in a high-rise, public housing building in Chicago. The Evans family had three children and JJ was the oldest, an artist in his late teens when the show debuted. Artworks were often perched on an easel in the main living space where JJ worked. The paintings purported to be produced by the character, were actually painted by Barnes.

“The thing I remembered more than anything else was the episode where James died (the father) and when the credits rolled you saw ‘Sugar Shack’ and you were like, ‘What is that? Wow. That’s amazing.’ Having that be part of my visual memory as a kid, it’s wild to then now be in this present moment with an artist that I absolutely revere and see this work live and in person. It’s a little emotional sometimes to be in that space and be where we are and understand that we are creating a little bit more for him.”

He continued to reminisce: “The other thing is I grew up in one of those households where Saturday mornings were spent listening to music while the kids fake cleaned. We really weren’t cleaning anything. We were just dancing. Having some of those LP covers exist and now to see that come to life in a painting is all so really surreal. It’s just wild that something that is a beautiful childhood memory is now a legacy artist that we’re a part of telling his story with his estate.”

The joyful experiences and indelible memories Lewis recalled echo those of so many others of who came of age in the 1970s and 80s. “This show is almost like a beautiful kiss to all of those memories,” he said.

Lewis is an avid collector of African American and African diaspora art. He acquired his first Barnes painting in the process of planning “Liberating Humanity From Within.”

Arthur Lewis is an avid collector of African American and African diaspora art. He acquired his first Barnes painting in the process of planning “Liberating Humanity From Within.”

“Portrait of Mrs. Wiggles” (1975) is a full-length portrait of a woman in a red bikini and red heels, her hair styled in a perfectly round Afro. The painting is on view courtesy of Lewis. He hasn’t had a chance to display the painting in his home yet. It went straight into the exhibition.

“I own Mrs. Wiggles from ‘Good Times.’ How about that?” he said. “This is one that came along when we were partnering with the estate. We were going through all that was available and what actually ended up happening is word got out and collectors who had many of these works decided that it was time to part with them. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but the collector who owned ‘Mrs. Wiggles’ said, ‘I am ready to let go of her.’ And I was like, ‘Well then, she belongs to me.’”

Lewis continued: “What I love is that the world is going to get to see her in person before I get to experience her myself. But the memory of her coming in that white knit swimsuit that was a one piece and then J.J. turned it into this two piece red swim suit is just—this is what I mean, I know all the episodeS—is just wild that I get to live with something that is just pure nostalgia and obviously an epic piece of artwork.” (The episode, titled “The Nude,” aired during Season 2 in 1975.)

“Portrait of Mrs. Wiggles,” “The Sugar Shack,” “The Graduate” (1972), and “Jake” (1972), were all featured on “Good Times” and the four paintings are on view in the exhibition. The vintage TV installed in the gallery is streaming episodes in which the paintings appeared.


ERNIE BARNES, “The Graduate,” | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within,” UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills (Nov. 11, 2020-TBD). | Photo by Andrew Kenney, Courtesy UTA Artist Space

BARNES ORGANIZED AN EXHIBITION of his paintings when “Good Times” was still on the air. A response to the times, “The Beauty of the Ghetto” was intended as a celebration of Black people and Black culture in an era when “Black is Beautiful” was gaining popularity. The exhibition featured 35 paintings and toured nationally to museums and galleries, between 1972 and 1979.

After opening at Heritage Gallery in Los Angeles, the schedule included a stop at the African Art Museum (now the Smithsonian National Museum of African History) in Washington, D.C., in 1974, co-hosted by Ethel Kennedy and Brig Owens, a former NFL player. Kennedy also hosted a 1975 showing in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Center). Years later, the final venue was Grand Central Art Galleries in New York in 1990. The gallery had hosted Barnes first professional exhibition in 1966, about a week after his father died.

Nearly two decades later, plans to present “Liberating Humanity From Within” were underway when Barnes died. “This was the one he was focusing on,” Rodriguez said. “He was an unconventional painter, so a lot of these paintings he started years before and then he would work with them many at a time and then he completed them in 2007 and we did a little show. A little preview.”

The group of paintings that comprises “Liberating Humanity From Within” was on view for one week in 2007, from Oct. 23-29, at Time Warner Center in New York. The occasion was an NFL tribute to Barnes, co-sponsored by the NFL, Time Warner, and Time Warner Center. Owens, Donna Brazile, Jack Kemp, and Susan L. Taylor, served as co-chairs of the event.

The group of paintings that comprises “Liberating Humanity From Within” was on view for one week in 2007 at Time Warner Center in New York. The occasion was an NFL tribute to Ernie Barnes.

A 36-page publication, with the cover title “A Tribute to Artist and NFL Alumni Ernie Barnes: his art & inspiration,” was produced to document the event. A page is dedicated to each of the 23 paintings, which are illustrated in full color. Curator William A. Fagaly, who worked at the New Orleans Museum of Art for 50 years before retiring in 2016, wrote a brief essay about the artist and his work. There are also contributions from Brazile and Kemp, and Richard D. Parsons, then chairman and CEO of Time Warner.

“An Inner Strength,” the painting leaning against the fence at UTA Artist Space, is described as the show’s “theme” work. The title “Liberating Humanity From Within” is referenced only inside the publication along with an explanation of the unifying thread for the “recent paintings” in the show:

After the preview, Rodriguez said Barnes was thinking of adding some more paintings to the exhibition. But time got the best of him and he never did. “I was looking at his notes,” she said. “We had planned to launch this in 2010 or ’11, but Ernie got sick at the end of 2008 and passed away four months later and so we never really did it. Until now.”


ERNIE BARNES, “A Moral Imperative,” 2007 (acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within,” UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills (Nov. 11, 2020-TBD). Shown, From left, “Icons of Humanity” (2007), “The View” (2007), “N Da House” (1996). | Photo by Andrew Kenney, Courtesy UTA Artist Space

DISCUSSING THE CURRENT EXHIBITION, Rodriguez emphasized the range of work on view and the overall uplifting nature of Barnes’s work. “If you look at Ernie’s work it’s always positive. There is nothing melancholy about any of his work. His art is really about his reaction to what he saw and what he experienced. Some people write music. Some people write books. Ernie painted,” she said.

“When Ernie picked the elements for the show, the subject matters, he included things people are familiar with, things like dance and women, music, pool halls and sports and fashion. He used those elements, but he took it to another level. There’s a painting that addresses climate change head on. There’s a man with a globe in his hand he’s taking the temperature.”

Both Lewis and Rodriguez draw parallels between Barnes’s work and the contemporary moment. It resonates in particular, they said, with regard to Black women. Two paintings in the exhibition exemplify this: “Sticks and Stones” (2007) and “A Walk in Faith” (2000). Rodriguez said:

famous Malcolm x quote

“In the series of paintings that Ernie did of strong Black women, she’s a central figure and she’s moving forward with her head held up high despite all this stuff around her, undaunted. That painting is very important.” — Luz Rodriguez

Lewis also referenced the Malcolm X quote and echoed her reaction to the painting:


ERNIE BARNES, “A Walk in Faith,” 2000 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


ERNIE BARNES, “Body Voice,” 2007 (acrylic on canvas, 36 x 24 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust

In conclusion, Lewis said: “It’s one of those things that I don’t think we could have planned on better timing, quite honestly. It just fits the narrative of what’s happening right now.”

True. The voice and vision of Barnes is a welcome antidote to the myriad challenges of 2020 and the exhibition is a unique opportunity to spend time with his work. But given the health and safety protocols required to stem the spread of COVID-19, the amount of visitors able to experience the exhibition in person is significantly reduced. On the upside, for those who do visit, sharing the space with just a few others optimizes the opportunity to fully engage with the presentation.

Appointments are required to see the show. The exhibition was originally scheduled to conclude in mid-December. After November appointments were quickly booked, the show was extended to the end of the year. Asked whether he considered delaying the exhibition in order to maximize the in-person audience, Lewis said they weighed their options and decided to move forward with the current schedule. It’s a dilemma art institutions and curators nearly everywhere are contending with.

“I think this is the joy of having things be fully digital. I really do think you are going to get a really good sense and experience of what we’ve created in the space. I also think it’s one of those times where we couldn’t think of a better time to actually do this than now,” Lewis said.

“We are on the verge of such change in this country and Luz and I talked a lot about whether we change the date. Do we push it out? Do we wait for things to get back to normal? But honestly, what is normal going to look like? I don’t think any of us have those answers. So we chose to move it forward and fortunately I think what’s happened is everyone is like, ‘Wow. Great. Hopeful show. Definitely need to see this. I want to come and see it.’ …I think the decision to do it now actually could be a bit of a benefit.”

(Editor’s Note: As this article was being readied for publication, UTA Artist Space announced it was closing at least through the end of 2020, due to the latest LA County COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.)


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within,” UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills (Nov. 11, 2020-TBD). | Photo by Andrew Kenney, Courtesy UTA Artist Space

A SERIES OF BLACK FEMALE CURATORS including Nicola Vassell, Mariane Ibrahim, and Myrtis Bedolla has recently organized exhibitions at UTA Artist Space, where the overarching slate of eclectic programming has spanned museum-style exhibitions and selling exhibitions (the Barnes show arguably straddles both categories) and group shows and solo shows, with works by emerging artists of color are frequently showcased. Lewis explained his mission and the nature of what they are trying to do in the space:

Working with Mariane Ibrahim,

her gallery.

digital show

“Underrepresentation could mean lots of things, but what it has historically meant is artists of color, female curators, those types of opportunities weren’t necessarily presenting themselves in full. So we’ve gone out of our way to make sure that that becomes the anchor of what we’re trying to build.” — Arthur Lewis

Over the past few years, Rodriguez has guided greater visibility of Barnes. She’s worked with museum curators in the two places that claim the artist as their own. “The North Carolina Roots of Artist Ernie Barnes” was on view at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh (June 29, 2018-May 27, 2019). Before that exhibition, near his hometown closed, “Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective” opened at the California African American Museum (May 8-Sept. 8, 2019) in Los Angeles, the city where the artist spent most of his career. “Liberating Humanity From Within” is on view in Los Angeles, too. Rodriguez said she is interested in expanding the reach of Barnes’s exhibitions to other parts of the country.

In 2018, Hampton Art Lovers presented Ernie Barnes: Eyes Closed, an art fair/selling exhibition. The Art of Black Miami event was presented in conjunction with the Ernie Barnes Family Foundation during Miami Art Week.

Barnes’s work has been the subject of 2020 and 2021 wall calendars. The estate just released a new series of limited-edition prints. Then of course, there is the formal representation established with UTA, which includes art sales and exhibitions, in addition to potential film, TV, and book projects.

“It was very shocking of course when he passed away and I felt like the starting gun went off. I feel extremely fortunate, of course, but it’s a huge responsibility to represent him and carry on his legacy. My main focus is ensuring the integrity of his work and how I present it. He gave me some pretty strict marching orders at the end. He was primarily known as either the ‘Good Times’ artist or the football-player-turned-artist. People know his sports images. The majority of his work, 85 percent, didn’t get any exposure,” Rodriguez said.

“Now I just want people to know his story. I want them to know his experience. I really want them to know his personality. What a special human being he was. His personality is so evident in his art. He was serious, but he was really playful at times. There are these subtle hints of his sense of humor. There’s a painting in the show called ‘Lift Every Voice,’ which is of course the Black National Anthem. The painting has the choir and they are a diverse group of people and they are singing ‘Lift Every Voice,’ but then you have the one person who doesn’t know the words. So he’s humming. Things like that are in the show. I really want to show people, who weren’t able to meet him. I want them to know him through his art and understand him more.” CT

“Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within” is on view at UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills, Calif. (Nov. 11-TBD). UTA Artist Space was open by appointment only and on Nov. 30 closed at least through the end of 2020, in response to the latest LA County COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.

UPDATE (12.06.20): An information box detailing the checklist for Liberating Humanity From Within was added. Identification of the subjects in “Icons of Humanity” was corrected. The painting includes Florence Nightengale, not Mother Theresa.


ERNIE BARNES, “A Dream Deferred,” 1996 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within,” UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills (Nov. 11, 2020-TBD). | Photo by Andrew Kenney, Courtesy UTA Artist Space


ERNIE BARNES, “Back in the Day,” 2007 (acrylic on canvas, 20 x 30 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


ERNIE BARNES, “Jake,” 1972 (acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


ERNIE BARNES, “The View,” 2007 (acrylic on canvas, 28 x 22 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


Installation view of “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within,” UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills (Nov. 11, 2020-TBD). | Photo by Andrew Kenney, Courtesy UTA Artist Space


ERNIE BARNES, “Somewhere Else,” 2007 (acrylic on canvas, 22 x 28 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


ERNIE BARNES, “One-on-None,” 1985 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 30 inches), | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


ERNIE BARNES, “‘N Da House,” 1996 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


ERNIE BARNES, “The Runway,” 2007 (acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust


ERNIE BARNES, “Bank Shot, Corner Pocket,” 1982 (acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches). | © Ernie Barnes Family Trust

BOOKSHELF
Published in 2007, “A Tribute to Artist and NFL Alumni Ernie Barnes: His Art & Inspiration” commemorates a New York City exhibition hosted by Time Warner and the National Football League, where Ernie Barnes first previewed the artworks in “Ernie Barnes: Liberating Humanity From Within.” “Pads to Palette,” is an autobiographical volume by Ernie Barnes. Alongside illustrations of his work, the artist recounts his childhood in Durham, N.C., football experiences including the segregated AFL and early NFL years, and the start of his art career with his first gallery exhibition. A children’s book, “Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery,” was published in 2018.