Burnis Calvin Day celebrates the ‘Pastime Sports’

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

In celebration of Black History Month, we hope you enjoy this painting in our collection.

Burnis Calvin Day (American, b. 1940)
Pastime Sports, 1976
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 39 in.
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of the artist, A3104,96.0002

In this colorful painting, Day created a lively image of young people playing different sports and engaging in other forms of seasonal recreation. Working in an abstract style with geometric forms and broad planes of color, this African American artist portrayed groups of figures playing basketball, tennis, and baseball in the center and foreground. At the top of the work, individuals are depicted ice- and roller skating. Originally, Day developed the theme of this painting for a mural competition sponsored by the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department in 1976. When the mural design was not accepted as the winning entry, Day developed his work into a smaller painting, which he later donated to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. Eventually, his mural design based upon Pastime Sports was accepted for another competition and reproduced as a 13- x 16-foot mural (completed from 1996–97) at the Maheras-Gentry Recreation Center, Detroit (closed 1999). In relation to the composition’s intended communal setting, its subject conveys a sense of optimism and interracial cooperation.

About his style, Day remarked:

[M]y original style of painting called “Neogeometric”, uses lines, creative imagination, geometric forms, and a strong artistic background. I feel I can take any realistic situation and draw it into a successful geometric design, using various mediums for the finished or unfinished work. My universal style, for the most part, is considered contemporary, but upon closer scrutiny, it will be recognized that I am employing the builder’s principle, which is geometric design. Geometric symbols are as old as man’s ancient existence. It is the way in which I use these geometric symbols that gives my paintings an air of being contemporary. My feeling is that this geometric concept is relevant, as it is basic and a part of our everyday life. It can be found everywhere.*

Day was born in Hepzibah, West Virginia, and he studied at the Center for Creative Studies-College For Creative Studies, Detroit, the Famous Artists School (formerly Westport, Connecticut), and Oakland Community College, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Day received exhibitions at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the New Mexico Arts League, Albuquerque, and the New England Art Institute (formerly Brookline, Massachusetts). After first teaching at Pittman’s Gallery, Inc., in 1973, Day later served as an instructor in drawing, painting, and mixed media at different arts institutions throughout Michigan. His work also is represented in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City.

To learn more about Day’s creative process, click here to view this interview with him and his Detroit-based contemporaries:


Through the Artist Eyes
Produced by Deborah Ray and Juanita Anderson
© Detroit Educational Television Foundation, 1981.

*Excerpt from Denver Public Library, “Artist Burnis Calvin Day.”