My favorite painter was James Evans, Jr.

Let’s go back a bit.

It’s the mid 1980s. I’m drawing. I’m watching cartoons like Voltron, GoBots, Thundercats… and I loved the art of those.

But my favorite artist?  James Evans, Jr. And he was about as real as Lion-O and Cheetara.

James “J.J.” Evans, Jr, a.k.a. Kid Dy-No-Mite, was a character on the 1970s Norman Lear sitcom “Good Times”. By the time I saw it it was in reruns.  Every day. Between the hours of 4 and 5pm, on channel 13. It followed the lives of a lower income African-American family living in the Chicago housing projects.  The parents, James Sr. and Florida Evans, hard-working people just trying to make it to the next day… their goal was to give their kids everything they never had. Michael was going to be a lawyer, Thelma was going to go into the performing arts and J.J. was going to be (and already was) an artist.

I gravitated to J.J. immediately. Didn’t hurt that he was the funniest character (which go old in later seasons… but that’s for another post).

They lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment.  J.J.’s working area was right behind the couch… near a window to get the best light. He was a painter. Every day I hoped that J.J. would be painting something else. If he wasn’t, maybe one of his pieces would be on the easel. Up until J.J., paintings to me were either in church or in my grandparent’s house. (I’d yet to discover Bob Ross… definitely another post).

J.J. let this little kid see that painting could be really, really, cool. I may not have grasped what was happening to me at the time, but it definitely happened. Hopefully I was the only one to see painting a in a different way because of J.J.

“The Sugar Shack” by Ernie Barnes

I found out later that all the pieces featured on the show were done by a man named Ernie Barnes. And that sent me on a path of discovery… really cool discovery… of an entire group of African-American artists doing amazing work.

I always wanted to try and create an Ernie Barnes inspired piece. His expressiveness with the human form and fearless use of bold colors appeals to the cartoonist in me. So, I did. It’s an homage to the man who got me excited about art.

Trust me when I say that the theme to “Good Times” was on a non-stop loop in my head while working on this.

I’m telling you all this to tell you this: You never know where your influences will come from.

Categories: art