Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This painting shows the artist’s signature style of painting elongated human figures in action. Many of his paintings were inspired by his own experience as an athlete. The subjects he painted were often related to sports, dancing, and music.
- Eddie Barnes was an athlete and artist who grew up in Durham, North Carolina. He played football at Hillside High School, Durham’s Black high school during segregation. After high school he played football and studied art at North Carolina Central University.
- Barnes played professional football after college. He retired from the NFL at age 28 and became a full-time artist.
This painting combines Ernie Barnes’s artistic and athletic talents. Like many of his paintings, it demonstrates his ability to translate his own experiences into a rhythmic art composition. The central figure in this work is shown in action, in the artist’s signature elongated style. Barnes once explained how he developed his artistic style. He said his college mentor and art instructor (Ed Wilson) told him to pay attention to how his body felt in movement. “Within that elongation,” he said, “there’s a feeling, an attitude, and [an] expression.”
Barnes was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. He graduated from Hillside High in 1956 and then attended what is now North Carolina Central University in Durham. He majored in art on a full athletic scholarship. After college Barnes played professional football for the NFL for six years. He played for the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos. When he was 28, he retired and devoted the rest of his life to painting.
Last Hurdle is a transformative addition to the NCMA collection. Barnes remains one of the state’s most renowned artists. His work explores the spirit and strength of the African American community, and it has created a bridge between popular media and fine art.
Barnes’s most famous painting is The Sugar Shack. It depicts Black figures dancing in a crowded music venue in Durham during racial segregation. The painting was used on the cover of a Marvin Gaye album. It also appeared in the closing credits of the 1970s TV show Good Times. In 2022 (13 years after Barnes’s death), The Sugar Shack sold at auction for more than 15 million dollars.
Resources for Teachers
- Read an article about an exhibition of Ernie Barnes’s work at the North Carolina Museum of History.
- Listen to a podcast episode about Barnes and his art.
- Visit a website that features articles about Jim Crow history in North Carolina.
Resources for Students
- Watch a video about Ernie Barnes.
- View a picture of the artist’s best-known painting,The Sugar Shack.
- Read an article about Jim Crow laws.