A print is not a reproduction. A print, in whatever medium, is or should be made and conceived by the artist himself; he will have knowingly chosen his medium so as best to express his idea, and he will have supervised its execution at every stage. In certain cases others may have helped him in the technical execution and printing, but his signature on every proof is a witness to his approval of each final copy.”
By MAKEDA EASTER LOS ANGELES TIMES STAFF WRITER AUG. 28, 2019
At the California African American Museum’s retrospective dedicated to late artist and former NFL player Ernie Barnes, “The Sugar Shack” is an undeniable star.
Visitors often form a line around the painting, said the show’s curator, Bridget R. Cooks, associate professor in the departments of African American studies and art history at UC Irvine. They all wait for their moment with Barnes’ work, a piece that entered pop-culture consciousness after appearing on the 1970s sitcom “Good Times” and as the cover art to Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album, “I Want You.”
“The Sugar Shack” transports viewers to a jubilant black club. Vibrant, dancing partygoers and musicians fill the 3-by-4-foot canvas. Most have their eyes closed, a signature in nearly all of Barnes’ paintings, referring to his oft-stated belief that “we are blind to each other’s humanity.”
As a neo-mannerist who referenced the late Renaissance period of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, Barnes painted the figures in “The Sugar Shack” as exaggerated and elongated forms, one man’s arms joyously nearly reaching the top of the canvas, another woman’s curvy legs stretching halfway across the dance floor. Barnes’ expressive style helps viewers identify with the rhythm and sensuality of the painting, Cooks said.
One central figure in the painting is a woman in a yellow dress and white shoes, dancing at the front of the tall stage, her back to the viewer. She’s a character who appears in artworks throughout Barnes’ career.
It’s easy to get lost in the revelers, but a closer look reveals unexpected details. Nestled in a corner between the stairs and the stage is a black man in a blue uniform, sitting with a newspaper at his feet. Unlike the rest of the figures on the canvas his expression is downcast. He seems to be an outsider.
Cooks isn’t certain if he’s working security or if he’s an off-duty policeman relaxing with the music. But she compared the figure to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1981 work “Irony of the Negro Policeman.” “He’s representing law and order and we don’t think about the police being, especially today, friends of the black community,” Cooks said.
Barnes was born into a working-class family in segregated Durham, N.C., in 1938. He painted “The Sugar Shack” from a childhood memory — sneaking into the Durham Armory, a venue that hosted segregated dances and that still exists today. “This was a place where you could go as a black person and see Duke Ellington and see Clyde McPhatter,” Cooks said. Barnes, who died in 2009, recalled in a 2008 interview that the experience was the “first time my innocence met with the sins of dance.”
After being drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1959, Barnes played professional football for teams including the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers until 1965, before pursuing his passion for art.
His work during the time, including “The Sugar Shack,” was about “showing blackness as beautiful and even exaggerating form,” Cooks said. “It’s not about trying to hide the curves of your body or the facial features that you have. It’s about showing them, even exaggerating them and making it not even just OK but something to really be celebrated.”
“The Sugar Shack” ascended into pop culture by chance.
After Barnes played a game of basketball with Gaye, the soul singer caught a glimpse of Barnes’ painting in his car. “He went crazy and he was like I have to have this,” Cooks said.
Barnes augmented the painting to include references to Gaye’s music, and the work became the cover of his “I Want You” album in 1976. That same year, Barnes painted a “Sugar Shack” duplicate, which is on display at CAAM. According to a note written by the artist, he created the second painting because the first “moved around, uninsured” and out of his control.
In the 1970s, producer Norman Lear commissioned Barnes to create original paintings for the Jimmie Walker character J.J. in “Good Times,” the sitcom about a black family living in a Chicago housing project. In later seasons “The Sugar Shack” was the backdrop for the show’s credits.
The painting became part of American national memory, something of a mythical object, Cooks said. The curator believes Barnes would have found “The Sugar Shack” selfie lines at CAAM to be meaningful.
“It’s wonderful to see how much respect the painting commands,” she said. “People really understand this is a painting that in some ways belongs to everyone.”
‘Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective’
Where: California African American Museum, Exposition Park, 600 State Drive, Los Angeles When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 8. Admission: FreeInfo: https://caamuseum.org
Warrington Colescott, an innovative printmaker who deftly navigated the intersection between tragedy and high comedy with biting etchings about civil rights, history, politics and the Internal Revenue Service (which audited him), died on Sept. 10 at his farmhouse in Hollandale, Wis., southwest of Madison. He was 97
His son, Julian, confirmed the death.
“Etching quickens the blood, lights up the eye, affects the satirical mind in the same way that a low-cut neckline affects Dracula,” Mr. Colescott wrote in a catalog for an exhibition of his prints at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1996.
A Fulbright and Guggenheim fellow whose prints are widely collected, Mr. Colescott employed a figurative style that tinkered liberally with reality in wildly colorful, cartoonish and sometimes disquieting ways.
“In Birmingham Jail” (1963) was inspired by the bloody demonstrations in the Deep South against segregation in the 1950s and early ’60s. Its two panels show rows of darkened jail cells where protesters are beaten by grotesquely drawn police officers — images that Mr. Colescott interspersed with pictures of a girls choir and Bart Starr, the Alabama-born quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, his favorite team.
“Golly!” he says. “A big mother.” Beneath the jet, a whale is harpooned in the middle of an oil spill
“He was a dyed-in-the-wool Democratic progressive,” Mary Weaver Chapin, who curated a retrospective exhibition of Mr. Colescott’s prints at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2010, said in a telephone interview. “And this was really an attack on Bush’s environmental policy.”
Mr. Colescott sometimes created series of etchings, like one about Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, another about the bank robber John Dillinger and a third, “A History of Printmaking,” that reimagines historical moments in graphic arts involving Benjamin Franklin and artists like Rembrandt, Albrecht Dürer and Robert Rauschenberg.
In the riot of bellicose images that compose “Goya Studies War” (1976), Mr. Colescott shows Goya — the Spanish master who created a series of prints in the early 19th century called “The Disasters of War” — talking to a general and taking notes while a corpse is removed on a cart.
“What makes Colescott’s work so appealing is its mix of erudition and irreverence,” the critic Jennifer A. Smith wrote in 2010 in Isthmus, an alternative weekly newspaper in Madison, about an exhibition of his work that year at the city’s Grace Chosy Gallery. His prints, she added, were in the tradition of artists and social critics like William Hogarth and Honoré Daumier.
Warrington Wickham Colescott Jr. was born on March 7, 1921, in Oakland, Calif., to Creole parents from Louisiana. His mother, Lydia (Hutton) Colescott, was a schoolteacher who played the piano; his father, Warrington Sr., was a porter on the Southern Pacific Railroad and played the violin.
Mr. Colescott’s 1973 print, “Prime-Time Histories: George Washington Meets Betsy Ross, but Too Late.”Creditvia Michael Tropea/Milwaukee Art Museum
As a boy, Warrington was drawn to artifacts that his father brought him from fighting in France during World War I — like a gas mask and a dented helmet — and used them to play war with his friends and scare people on Halloween. He drew pictures, too, and was influenced by newspaper comic strips.
“My drawing style has, in many ways, remained constant since childhood,” he said in the book “Progressive Printmakers: Wisconsin Artists and the Print Renaissance” (1999), which he wrote with Arthur Hove. “The marks of the pen or brush spill out with a kind of attack. Ultimately, they all fuse together and become a narration.”
He drew cartoons for his high school newspaper and for the campus newspaper and humor magazine at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in art. One of his cartoon creations was adapted into Berkeley’s mascot, Oski the Bear.
In 1942, Mr. Colescott was drafted into the Army and served in Okinawa late in World War II and in Korea as part of the postwar occupation. On his return, he got his master’s in art from Berkeley and began teaching drawing and painting at Long Beach Community College in California. He joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1949, where he taught painting and printmaking for 37 years.
Mr. Colescott started out concentrating on painting and silk screens but became fascinated with etching after a year of study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London in the 1950s under his Fulbright grant. His initial etchings were abstract, but they soon evolved to a more figurative look that suited the events and figures he would illustrate.
In this new book from Rizzoli, the famed illustrator for Interview magazine and long-time Grace Jones collaborator takes the spotlight.
09.04.2018 by Brienne Walsh
Most people assume that Andy Warhol designed the covers for Interview, the magazine he founded in 1969 with British journalist John Wilcock—and it’s no wonder they do, given that Andy Warhol’s signature is on every single one of them. But in actuality, it was the artist Richard Bernstein, a contemporary of Warhol’s and a vibrant member of New York’s downtown scene before his death in 2002, who created the magazine’s most iconic covers using a mixture of collage, photography, and paint that transformed the merely young and famous into absolute supernovas.
“There is this small thing in surrealism called the surrealist manifesto (okay by small, I mean that this manifesto basically brought surrealism into existence as its known today.) It was written by André Breton and it is pretty cool. I recommend you check it out if you like to delve deep into this kind of thing.”
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