Painter Ernie Barnes died yesterday. Barnes is best known as the real life artist who provided the art for J.J. on Good Times. I’ve always had a soft spot for the painter’s work, not just because of the Good Times connection, but also because he was one of the first artists I was exposed to who showed urban life as beautiful. From the potrait of the Evans family that is shown in the credits, to the potraits of Black Jesus and Sweet Daddy, as well as scenes of basketball players and drunks on the street, Barnes’ work was a wonderful combination of the high and the low.
My favorite Ernie Barnes story actually comes from something I read in Wax Poetic last year. In the midst of a great Bill Wither’s interview, the singer comments on the fact that he allowed Kanye West to sample “Roses” after a conversation the two had at Ernie Barnes’ house. And that’s Ernie Barnes; bringing together different aspects-and creators-of the Black Experience and showing that all of it is beautiful.