top of page


Updated: Sep 19, 2021

Growing up listening to Marvin Gaye was truly a must in any home. His music is as American as America can be. I grew up in the 90s but even so his music still found a way to my little ears and heart at a young age but what was even more intriguing was seeing the art behind one of my favorite albums, 'I Want You' . For years I silently appreciated this cover so much and it resonated in my mind and for the longest time I correlated that to the TV Show Good Times. It was often portrayed in the same style that JJ Evans painted in the television show. As I grew older I started to realize the more passionate I became about art, the burning desire to understand the true artist behind such great and distinctive pieces of work. Eventually it led me to Ernie Barnes.

Early Life

Ernie Barnes, born July15,1938 in Durham, North Carolina, growing up in the Jim Crow era of Segregation. As a young child he was introduced to art books which helped him to learn about some of the ancient masters at an early age which fueled his appreciation for the arts although not being allowed in popular museums of the time because of segregation. He found solace in his sketchbooks , due to bullying and taunts associated with his weight but with active interest from an encouraging teacher he quickly found the determination and drive to strengthen the perspective on his life. He later picked up sports and became involved in Football and Track, on an athletic scholarship majoring in Art. He even went to play professional Football in the NFL for several years.


In those days during college, there were few representation of Black Art in Museums in his Hometown but he credits his college instructor Ed Wilson for helping him develop himself as an artist. He sold his first painting in 1959 entitled "Slow Dance" . Later in his art Career he began to be moved by the 'Black is Beautiful' movement that began in the 60's and carried on to the 70's. At that time he wondered to himself exactly what is it that they were to be proud of and thus was born 'The Beauty of the Ghetto Exhibition'. 35 Paintings that traveled across the US from 1972 to 1979, in which Barnes mentioned “I am providing a pictorial background for an understanding into the aesthetics of Black America. It is not a plea to people to continue to live there (in the ghetto) but for those who feel trapped, it is…a challenge of how beautiful life can be.”

The famous "Sugar Shack" Painting was also painted in the 70s and gained international exposure for being used in the Show Good Times as well as Marvin Gaye's Album. It was created in Barnes reminiscing of his childhood, as he says " 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." Although that may be his most notable piece of work he continued to paint countless works of art featuring in various Galleries, Movies and Television shows, commission pieces for artist such as Kanye West. Ernie past away in 2009, at the age of 70 but yet still his work continues to inspire others.

Personal Reflection

Looking on his life story and work really helped paint a better image of the man behind the paintings. Seeing how he grew up in a segregated environment and struggling to see fair representation of people of color or rather moments to be proud of is something many people today can resonate with. For me personally, as an artist trying to perfect my craft I often seek to find ways to explore more into well-thought-out subject matter that helps provide an outlet for feelings I have about the world around me. It is amazing to see how Ernie was able to portray in his work the Beauty of the Struggles of African Americans. Painting these elongated characters really showed to me the emotion and determination of the community, signifying a desire to endure and stretch outward despite what opposition is around them. I would like to challenge myself to paint in this style and express what I see today to help not portray the ills of this world but rather the resilience of people to let their beauty and significance be illustrated to all.

IMAGES and references of information were found from the website. Please visit them to learn more about the wonderful life of Ernie Barnes.

52 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page