“Good Times” Artist Ernie Barnes, 70, Dies

Ernie Barnes, whose work became nationally known when it appeared on the TV show Good Times through the character of fledgling artist J.J. Evans (Jimmy Walker) has died. Black America Web had a first obituary:

According to his official biography, Barnes was born July 15, 1938 to Ernest Sr. and Fannie Mae Geer Barnes during the Jim Crow era in Durham, North Carolina. As a child, young Ernest would accompany her to work and was allowed to peruse the extensive collection of art books. One day in junior high school, a teacher found the self-admitted fat, introverted young Barnes drawing in a notebook while hiding from the bullies who taunted him daily.

For over 40 years, his art has been admired and collected internationally. His national traveling “Beauty of the Ghetto” exhibition in the 1970s featured some of his timeless works as “Storyteller,” “High Aspirations” and “The Graduate.” His famous 1971 “Sugar Shack” dance scene appeared on the “Good Times” television show and on the Marvin Gaye album, “I Want You.”

I find interesting that first Ernie Barnes, and then Varnette Honeywood came to national prominence as artists when their work appeared on shows like Good Times and then The Cosby Show. That’s how I bought my first Honeywood print from watching Rudy Huxtable “bury” her goldfish in the toilet, but wondering, “Whose painting is in the background?”  And finding who they are at a gallery in The Haight, San Francisco.

According to another online bio at First Arts Source, Ernie Barnes used his skills as a football player to continue his art studies through high school and college. By the time he signed with the Baltimore Colts, Barnes had painted his first major work, The Bench, which remained his only work for some time, although he did write and illustrate an article about football injuries. He played offensive guard for the San Diego Chargers and for the Denver Broncos until injury forced him permanently out of the game in 1965. By degrees, and tempered by the fact that he had to provide for his growing family, Barnes gained confidence in his talent, and that translated into respect and then a growing base of admirers and collectors.  He was primarily known as a sports artist, though he was influenced by Renaissance artists Michelangelo and Raphael.   His Neo-Mannerist work is characterized by elongated, tightly-muscled people in motion:  at play or deep in dance. The Oakland Tribune called Barnes, “The Picasso of the black art world.” He was designated the official artist of the American Football League by the end of the Sixties, and later was the official artist of the 1984 23rd Olympic Games held in Los Angeles.

Artist Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) in younger days when he was starting to become known (Courtesy: mrmokelly.com)

His work can be found in the private collections of Ethel Kennedy, Bill and Camille Cosby, Norman Lear, and Harry Belafonte. His Wikipedia.org entry states the following:

In 2004, rapper and record producer Kanye West commissioned Barnes to paint an interpretation of West’s recovery from a 2002 near fatal car crash. The painting, named A Life Restored, measures 9 ft x 10 ft and hangs from West’s dining room ceiling.

Kanye’s website contains an homage to the artist.

Barnes is survived by his third wife of 25 years, five children, and a brother, according to the Los Angeles Times. Barnes completed From Pads To Palettes, his autobiography, in 1994; it can be found at Amazon.com. Ernie Barnes’ website, The Company of Art can be found here: http://www.erniebarnes.com/ Mourn the death of a master.

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~ by blksista on April 28, 2009.

4 Responses to ““Good Times” Artist Ernie Barnes, 70, Dies”

  1. GOOD TIMES!!!!!!!…..that show was sooooo offensive to black people!!!!!!!!

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  2. Sad to hear that. His career ad a fascinating start and he will be missed

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  3. May God Bless you and keep you in his loving light, Mr. Barnes. The world will miss you. I regret never having met you.

    Barbara Gale Simmons Coleman
    Dunwoody, Georgia

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