For many fans of 1970s American television, Ernie Barnes’ (1938–2009) painting The Sugar Shack is no doubt instantly familiar. The 1976 work depicting a dance scene—which was the cover art for Marvin Gaye’s album I Want You—achieved cult status by regularly appearing on the hit sitcom Good Times, inspiring a community of television viewers who discussed it after each episode.
Barnes created some of the twentieth century’s most iconic images of African American life. Known for his unique “neo-mannerist” approach of presenting figures through elongated forms, he captured his observations of life growing up in North Carolina, playing professional football in the NFL (1960–1964), and living in Los Angeles. Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective includes examples of his paintings of entertainment and music, and also highlights how Barnes, the official artist of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, extensively represented athletes and sports.
Popularly admired—yet not widely known within the mainstream art world—Barnes is revered by a diverse group of collectors and admirers across the country. Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective presents art and ephemera documenting his life and career, and examines his place in African American culture.
Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective is guest curated by Bridget R. Cooks, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Art History at the University of California at Irvine with assistance from Vida L. Brown, Visual Arts Curator and Program Manager.