Sugar Shack by Ernie Barnes

Sugar Shack by Ernie Barnes


Price: $350 
Lithograph/Open edition
Image size: 24″h x 34″w
Paper size: 27″h x 37″w

“Sugar Shack”

Barnes created the painting Sugar Shack in the early 1970s. It gained international exposure when it was used on the Good Times television series and on a 1976 Marvin Gaye album.

According to Barnes, he created the original version of Sugar Shack after reflecting upon his childhood, during which he was not “able to go to a dance.” In a 2008 interview, Barnes said, “Sugar Shack is a recall of a childhood experience. It was the first time my innocence met with the sins of Ernie Barnes Sugar Shack as Marvin Gaye I Want You album coverdance. The painting transmits rhythm so the experience is re-created in the person viewing it. To show that African-Americans utilize rhythm as a way of resolving physical tension.” The Sugar Shack has been known to art critics for embodying the style of art composition known as “Black Romantic,” which, according to Natalie Hopkinson of The Washington Post, is the “visual-art equivalent of the Chitlin’ circuit.”

On the original Sugar Shack, Barnes included his hometown Durham, North Carolina radio station WSRC on a banner. He incorrectly listed the frequency at 620. It was actually 1410. Barnes confused what he used to hear WSRC’s on-air personality Norfley Whitted saying “620 on your dial” when Whitted was at his former staion WDNC in the early 1950s.

After Marvin Gaye asked him for permission to use the painting as an album cover, Barnes then augmented the painting by adding references that allude to Gaye’s album, including banners hanging from the ceiling to promote the album’s singles.

During the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever anniversary television special on March 25, 1983, tribute was paid to Sugar Shack with a dance interpretation of the painting. It was also during this telecast that Michael Jackson introduced his famous “moonwalk” dance.

Music album covers

Barnes’ work appears on the following album covers:

  • Sugar Shack on Marvin Gaye’s 1976 I Want You
  • Disco on self-titled 1978 Faith, Hope & Charity
  • Donald Byrd and 125th Street, NYC on self-titled 1979 album
  • Late Night DJ on Curtis Mayfield’s 1980 Something to Believe In
  • The Maestro on The Crusaders’ 1984 Ghetto Blaster
  • Head Over Heels on The Crusaders’ 1986 The Good and Bad Times
  • In Rapture on B.B. King’s 2000 Making Love is Good For You

Offered at $350  


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8 Responses

  1. Meme O says:

    Oh my goodness! As a kid growing up we have this picture up in out living room! It was not the original of course lol

  2. Ariana says:

    i appreciate you sharing this information here. it was a brilliant post. thanks!

  3. Francine says:

    I remember hearing this song on the radio as a child! And I definitely remember seeing this painting before. It’s glorious. I want to go to there!

  4. Zamphir says:

    I just Love the work of Ernie Barnes. Such a talented artist and I can actually feel the motion in his paintings.

  5. popai says:

    This is wonderful. I can hear the song in my head and imagine the characters and the passion in this painting as in the song.

  6. Jeremey Day says:

    Beautiful work! I love seeing great talent like this. This is exactly the type of art I love seeing most – raw, edgy, and able to stir your imagination and emotion.

  7. Samantha Norris says:

    Love this print. It really does emote feeling and energy. Beautiful work!

  8. bluecat says:

    wonderful….I can almost feel the groove

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