Ernie Barnes

Depicted by Dorian "D" Epps

July 15, 1938 - April 2009 (72 years old)

Parents: Ernest E. Barnes & Fannie Mae Greer

Ernie Barnes’ interest in the visual arts can be attributed to Mr. Fuller, a

family friend who pushed him to read art books and listen to classical

music well before the first grade. He became familiar with the likes of

Michelangelo and Toulouse-Lautrec. Although, because of Jim Crow law

and the era of legal segregation, it would be years before Ernie was

taken seriously as an artist or even allowed into local museums as a

patron, let alone a featured artist. In the meantime and against many

odds, Ernie Barnes had a very successful career as a professional

athlete, playing for the Baltimore Colts (1959-1960), San Diego Chargers

(1960-62), Denver Broncos (1963-64) and even played in the Canadian

Football League.

Barnes’ experience as a professional athlete gave him a special vantage

point to the human form and movement, which greatly influenced his

artwork. He’s quoted remarking, “(Wilson) told me to pay attention to

what my body felt like in movement. Within that elongation, there’s a

feeling, an attitude and expression. I hate to think had I not played

sports what my work would look like.” This intersectionality between

athlete and artist set him apart from other artist and athletes alike,

giving him a very successful career. He’s honored as the first “Sports

Artist of the Year”by the United States Sports Academy 1985). Notable

artworks depicting athletic feats include “The Finish” (1984), “The Bench”

(1966) and The Dunk (1970).

Not only did Ernie Barnes have an extremely successful sports arts

career, but he made such a name for himself because of his unique

perspective and identity. His artwork ventures far beyond sports and

athleticism. His painting “Sugar Shack” is the album cover for Marvin

Gaye’s “I Want You” and his “In Rapture” is featured on B.B. King’s album

“Making Love is Good For You”. Barnes’ career set the precedent for many

athletes and artists that you don’t have to choose between your “rival”

passions. Ernie Barnes is proof that sometimes, all you have to do is dig a

little deeper to take your place and discover your niche in the world.