Born in Durham North Carolina, Ernie Barnes’ interest in art began early. As a grade school student, and throughout his primary education, he became increasingly familiar with the works of the greatest artists in the canon of art history and filled countless sketchbooks with his own work. A self-described chubby kid, Barnes found confidence and purpose in bodybuilding, becoming the captain of the football team by his senior year in high school. He would go on to play for three NFL teams from 1959-1964 before a fractured foot ended his career.
Barnes built on his foundation in art, mounting his first solo exhibition in 1966 at New York’s Grand Central Art galleries and was said to be the best painter of sport since George Bellows.