Acclaimed Artist Ernie Barnes Dies

Published April 28, 2009

His work is striking and immediately recognizable. World renowned artist Ernie Barnes has died at the age of 70.

Barnes, one of the country’s most celebrated African-American painters, is considered one of the foremost figurative style artists of his generation. Among his most well-known work is perhaps the 1971 “Sugar Shack” dance scene that was featured on the Marvin Gaye album, “I Want You,” as well as in the credits of the TV show “Good Times.”

Born in Durham, N.C., Barnes excelled at both art and athletics, attending North Carolina College on a football scholarship. He went on to play for several seasons in the NFL. According to Barnes’ Web site, “In 1965, New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin recognized Barnes’ artistic potential and replaced his football salary for one season so he could devote himself 'to just paint.' One year later, Barnes made his debut in a critically acclaimed solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries in Manhattan and retired from football."

In the foreword to his 1995 autobiography, “From Pads to Palette,” Barnes’ long-time friend and San Diego Chargers teammate, former Congressman Jack Kemp, wrote: “Ernie is a living manifestation of the American Dream. On a personal level, I am so pleased that Ernie’s sketchbooks dating back thirty years have been unearthed. They are a blueprint of how perseverance, moral stamina, tenacity and courage can transform a hard-working, fiercely-competitive, mud-stained, old left guard into an accomplished, successful and revered artist.”

According to the City News Service, Barnes died Monday night at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a brief illness.

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Written by BET.com News Staff

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