Artist of the moment…..Ernie Barnes……

This artist was best known for being a professional football player. After retirement he came to painting and was known for his paintings of people of color with elongated and exaggerated arms and legs. His style would be similar to the paintings that J.J. (Jimmie Walker) used to paint on Good Times. Barnes most popular piece was called Sugarshack which consisted of a large group of persons of color dancing and partying the night away. In fact this was the piece used in the opening credits of the hit 1970s television series called “Good Times.”  This image is the sixth from the top of the gallery. The same image of the “Sugar Shack ” was used on a cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album titled ” I Want You.”  This lead to a great demand for the artist’s work.

The series “Good Times” starred John Amos as James Evans and his wife Florida who was played by Esther Rolle. The family lived in the projects and was always trying to find a way out. Jimmie Walker played the eldest son, who was quite an artist but never successful enough to get out of the ghetto. In one show he started a greeting card company, only to have it fail as well.

In this clip check out a short documentary on Ernie Barnes done by CNN.

Barnes was born in 1938 close to Durham, North Carolina. He grew up dirt poor with little chance of advancement in life due to the racist laws that existed in the south at that time. His father was a clerk for tobacco company, his mother helped run the household of an attorney. On some days his mother would take Ernie to the lawyers house and it was here he learned about fine art. He was appreciative of the art, though due to his race he couldn’t get into musuems.


On one of his first trips to a museum when he was in college, he asked where he could find paintings by African American artists. The musuem guide told him that, “your people don’t express themselves that way. ” Years later he would return to the museum for a solo show featuring his art.


Barnes wasn’t very athletic as a child. Pudgy and fat he was teased by other children and thus started drawing, sketching, and reading about art. A teacher who was a weightlifter and masonry coach, saw his drawings and asked what he would like to do in life. The teacher showed Barnes how to exercise properly and as a senior Barnes was captain of the football team and received more than twenty college scholarships for athletic.


A great art story is that as a newly signed player the artist was invited to watch the NFL championship match. He was so emotional after the game, he was signed by the Colts, he went back to his hotel room and using a palette knife and canvas made a painting he called the Bench. He would never sell this work in his lifetime and often travelled with the work even taking it to training camp.


His first television appearance in which he talked about art was with Regis Philbin back in 1962 for a local San Diego station.


After injuring his foot and giving up on football for a career, the artist went to the owners meeting of the NFL hoping to become its official league artist. Well the owner of the Jets ended up putting him on salary, but as an artist. The owner even arranged for Barnes to start selling his art.

Was named as official artist of the Los Angeles Summer Olympic games of 1984.

In this clip the Barnes describes the similarities of the character on Good Times J.J. Evans and himself.

low price range: Prints available from $250.

high price range: Original oils at $19,000.

Barnes passed away in 2009.

I found this artist’s path of life just remarkable in many ways. He was a great artist and I hope he gets more recognition now that he has passed on. His athletes have so much movement and life.

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