Saxophone Study #1
Saxophone Study #1 depicts an anonymous musician in profile––engrossed in performance, his body is hunched over to match the angles of his instrument. Barnes’s drawing focuses on the rapturous experience of playing and listening to music. Exclusively centering the musician and instrument a focal point, the artist abstracts the background. Though the backdrop is nondescript––a departure for Barnes who notoriously replicated the details of specific locales with great care––it vibrates with energetic charge. The richly textured background is achieved through a curling vortex of staccato lines, which implies the tempo of musical notes. This same virtuosic precision is applied throughout the drawing (a medium that Barnes habitually used to document attenuated action and rapid physical movement). For instance, the simultaneous pleasure and strain of music-making is captured in the expressionistic lines that burrow into the subject’s skin to produce a furrowed brow and tensile jawline. The variation in line found throughout the composition attests to Barnes’s extraordinary talent as a draughtsman. Sumptuous contour lines and chiaroscuro techniques are combined to enliven the musician’s clothing and replicate the reflective sheen on the saxophone’s metallic surface. Ultimately, Barnes’s fastidious and exacting reproduction unlocks a transportive artistic phenomenon, in which visual arts provides a portal to the sonic.
Music was a major source of inspiration for Barnes throughout his life. Among his earliest childhood memories were remembrances of sneaking into music halls in North Carolina like the Durham Armory, where rapturous sound was matched by the ecstasy of rhythmic dancing and collective effervescence. Later in his career, Barnes rose to national fame by collaborating with musicians like Marvin Gaye on art for their album covers. The saxophone player in the drawing is likely a jazz musician, speaking to the indelible position of the Black-originating musical genre in American culture. In the 20 th century, jazz became a radical declaration of racial Blackness that battled civil injustices through its cultural ascendance. In Barnes’s ennobling representation of the saxophonist, he enlarges the subject’s hands––endowing him with a physical monumentality that affirms his cultural import.
Graphite on paper
Artwork: 40 x 32 in. (101.6 x 81.28 cm.) Mat: 47 x 39 in. (119.38 x 99.06 cm.)
2020 Acquired from Estate. Private Collection, Maryland
Year of Creation