Tuesday, May 5, 2009

RIP Ernie Barnes (July 15, 1938 – April 27, 2009)

Ernie Barnes, a former professional football player who became a successful figurative painter, known for depictions of athletes and ordinary people whose muscled, elongated forms express physical and spiritual struggles, died Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 70. His death was caused by complications of a rare blood disorder, according to his longtime assistant, Luz Rodriguez.

His style, which critics have described as neo-Mannerist, became familiar to a prime-time television audience in the mid-1970s when producer Norman Lear hired Barnes to "ghost" the paintings by the Jimmie Walker character "J.J." in the groundbreaking African American sitcom "Good Times." As the backdrop for the show's closing credits, Lear used Barnes' 1971 painting "Sugar Shack," his most famous work. Singer Marvin Gaye later adapted the painting as the cover art for his 1976 album, "I Want You."

Singer-songwriter Bill Withers, who was close to Barnes during the last decade of his life, said the artist often spoke of wanting to educate people through his art.


The world lost a luminary on April 27th with the passing of Ernie Barnes. He was a great athlete, an innovative artist, and a Bull City native. I am not an art aficionado, but I am very familiar with Barnes's "Sugar Shack" painting. I think every member of my family has had a copy of that painting in their homes at one point in time. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn't know more about this man's artistic contributions. His signature style is awe inspiring and I feel a little cheated that I wasn't exposed to more of it at a younger age. Unfortunately, Black history and the arts are rarely taught in most public schools. It is my hope that this blog entry encourages you to learn more about this man's work. As stated in the article, Barnes inspired the cover of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" album. "After the Dance" is my favorite track on that LP.

I want you
You want me
So why don't we
Get together after the dance