In Holding Court, a trio of women convene in a living room, clad in fitted dresses, high heels, and accessories, ready for a night out but still occupying an distinctly domestic interior. News of the day seems to be the subject at hand, as the central figure gesticulates with head tilted back, one hand at the hip and the other waving with excitement. As the title suggests, she commands the room as the only body rendered frontally and unobstructed by decorative plants or furniture. Her eyes are also closed, as if engrossed in the inner thoughts she is in the midst of divulging to her confreres. Sightlessness is a signature visual motif of Barnes, who once explained that this device metaphorized “how blind we are to one another’s humanity.” This myopia applied most squarely to racial inequality and stereotyping: “We don’t see into the depths of our interconnection. The gifts, the strength and potential within other human beings. We stop at color quite often.” At the same time, Barnes invites the viewer to look closely, offering a seductive configuration of bodies typical of his representational style. Long limbs pulsate with vital action: backs arched, fingers splayed, toes pointed, chests heaved. What he termed a neo-expressionist approach to the human form, Barnes’s rendition of traditional figuration turned the everyday into the evocative.
A critical space for the life, activities, and commune of women, the living room centers prominently throughout the history of art as a designated zone of feminine pursuits and domestic interiority. Updating the boudoir scenes of 19 th century impressionism for the modern age, Barnes illuminated a space of female conviviality. This was a constant pursuit of the painter, who famously depicted the gathering places and venues of the important communities in his life. Although best known for paintings of male athletes taking part in competitive sports, the former professional football player frequently depicted women––either isolated as totemic icons undertaking labor or in clandestine cohorts. As in Holding Court, these portrayals celebrate the autonomous environments where women were enabled to devise their own value systems, cultural codes, and safety nets. After all, gossip, as Robin Dunbar theorizes, is a mode of survival.
Acrylic on canvas
Artwork: 22 x 28 in. (55.88 x 71.12 cm.) Frame: 27 x 33 x 2 in. (68.58 x 83.82 x 5.08 cm)
2020 Acquired from Estate. Private Collection, Maryland
Year of Creation