Sugar Shack by Ernie Barnes
Image size: 24″h x 34″w
Paper size: 27″h x 37″w
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 dance. 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