Ernie Barnes 1938-2009
Ernie Barnes’ Sugar Shack (1976) painting sold at Christie’s auction last Thursday for $15.3 million. The winning bid was 76 times higher than the predicted high estimate of $200,000.
Sugar Shack was a familiar image to tv viewers of the 1970s sitcom Good Times. Many of Barnes’ paintings were used in the show, about the life of a family whose oldest son, J.J., was an artist. A portrait of the family, done by Barnes, was used in the opening credits, and Sugar Shack was shown during the closing credits.
Barnes began drawing and painting at a young age, inspired by art works that he saw in books at the home of a lawyer, where his mother managed the housekeeping staff.
The elongated, vibrant figures in his paintings, like Setting the Games Rules (c.1975), available at Surovek Gallery, reflect Barnes’ athleticism; he played professional football, until a foot fracture ended his career in sports and began his career as an artist.
In 1984, Barnes was selected as the United States Sports Academy’s first Sport Artist of the Year, following his work as the official Sport Artist for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. In 2004, Barnes was again selected as the Sport Artist of the Year, making him one of only two sport artists to receive the Academy’s prestigious award twice.
The day after Sugar Shack was sold, Ernie Barnes’ Storm Dance (1977) sold at Christie’s for $2.3 million, on an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.
Ernie Barnes’ work focused on the joyful and moving moments of everyday life, not only in the Black community, but also of the Jewish community where he took up residence when he moved to Los Angeles. CNN did a touching report about Barnes’ life and legacy, with interviews of Barnes and just a few of the people whose lives he touched.
Hanna Ryan. ‘Sugar Shack,’ an iconic painting feature on a Marvin Gaye album cover, sells for $15.3 million. CNN. May 13, 2022.
Robin Pogrebin. Ernie Barnes’s ‘Sugar Shack’ Painting Brings Big Price at Auction. The New York Times. May 12, 2022.
Angelica Villa. Record-Setting Ernie Barnes Painting Steals the Spotlight at Christie’s $831 M. Evening Sales. Artnews. May 12, 2022.
Art Committee Members View Original Ernie Barnes Pieces at ASAMA. The United States Sports Academy. February 22, 2021.
Victoria L. Valentine. Envisioned by the Late Artist Himself, New Ernie Barnes Exhibition Brings His Figurative Paintings to Life. Culture Type. December 4, 2020.