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Elementor #40766

Ernie Barnes’ ‘Sugar Shack’: Why museum-goers line up to see ex-NFL player’s painting



At the California African American Museum’s retrospective dedicated to late artist and former NFL player Ernie Barnes, “The Sugar Shack” is an undeniable star.

Visitors often form a line around the painting, said the show’s curator, Bridget R. Cooks, associate professor in the departments of African American studies and art history at UC Irvine. They all wait for their moment with Barnes’ work, a piece that entered pop-culture consciousness after appearing on the 1970s sitcom “Good Times” and as the cover art to Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album, “I Want You.”

“The Sugar Shack” transports viewers to a jubilant black club. Vibrant, dancing partygoers and musicians fill the 3-by-4-foot canvas. Most have their eyes closed, a signature in nearly all of Barnes’ paintings, referring to his oft-stated belief that “we are blind to each other’s humanity.”

As a neo-mannerist who referenced the late Renaissance period of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, Barnes painted the figures in “The Sugar Shack” as exaggerated and elongated forms, one man’s arms joyously nearly reaching the top of the canvas, another woman’s curvy legs stretching halfway across the dance floor. Barnes’ expressive style helps viewers identify with the rhythm and sensuality of the painting, Cooks said.

One central figure in the painting is a woman in a yellow dress and white shoes, dancing at the front of the tall stage, her back to the viewer. She’s a character who appears in artworks throughout Barnes’ career.

It’s easy to get lost in the revelers, but a closer look reveals unexpected details. Nestled in a corner between the stairs and the stage is a black man in a blue uniform, sitting with a newspaper at his feet. Unlike the rest of the figures on the canvas his expression is downcast. He seems to be an outsider.

Cooks isn’t certain if he’s working security or if he’s an off-duty policeman relaxing with the music. But she compared the figure to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1981 work “Irony of the Negro Policeman.” “He’s representing law and order and we don’t think about the police being, especially today, friends of the black community,” Cooks said.

Barnes was born into a working-class family in segregated Durham, N.C., in 1938. He painted “The Sugar Shack” from a childhood memory — sneaking into the Durham Armory, a venue that hosted segregated dances and that still exists today. “This was a place where you could go as a black person and see Duke Ellington and see Clyde McPhatter,” Cooks said. Barnes, who died in 2009, recalled in a 2008 interview that the experience was the “first time my innocence met with the sins of dance.”

After being drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1959, Barnes played professional football for teams including the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers until 1965, before pursuing his passion for art.

Ernie Barnes at work

Ernie Barnes working in his studio in 1992.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

In the early 1970s, Barnes settled in L.A.’s Fairfax district. He became interested in Jewish culture and was impressed with how much the community knew of its history, Cooks said. “And he really wished that black people had the same type of cultural education.” Inspired by the “Black Is Beautiful” movement, he premiered his exhibition “The Beauty of the Ghetto,” 35 paintings depicting everyday scenes from black life, in 1972.

His work during the time, including “The Sugar Shack,” was about “showing blackness as beautiful and even exaggerating form,” Cooks said. “It’s not about trying to hide the curves of your body or the facial features that you have. It’s about showing them, even exaggerating them and making it not even just OK but something to really be celebrated.”

“The Sugar Shack” ascended into pop culture by chance.

After Barnes played a game of basketball with Gaye, the soul singer caught a glimpse of Barnes’ painting in his car. “He went crazy and he was like I have to have this,” Cooks said.

Barnes augmented the painting to include references to Gaye’s music, and the work became the cover of his “I Want You” album in 1976. That same year, Barnes painted a “Sugar Shack” duplicate, which is on display at CAAM. According to a note written by the artist, he created the second painting because the first “moved around, uninsured” and out of his control.

In the 1970s, producer Norman Lear commissioned Barnes to create original paintings for the Jimmie Walker character J.J. in “Good Times,” the sitcom about a black family living in a Chicago housing project. In later seasons “The Sugar Shack” was the backdrop for the show’s credits.

The painting became part of American national memory, something of a mythical object, Cooks said. The curator believes Barnes would have found “The Sugar Shack” selfie lines at CAAM to be meaningful.

“It’s wonderful to see how much respect the painting commands,” she said. “People really understand this is a painting that in some ways belongs to everyone.”

‘Ernie Barnes: A Retrospective’
Where: California African American Museum, Exposition Park, 600 State Drive, Los Angeles
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 8.
Admission: FreeInfo:


We came across this interesting blog post about Surrealism.

Surrealist Prints

“There is this small thing in surrealism called the surrealist manifesto (okay by small, I mean that this manifesto basically brought surrealism into existence as its known today.) It was written by André Breton and it is pretty cool. I recommend you check it out if you like to delve deep into this kind of thing.”

More can be found on the blog:

Mark Sabin Portfolio

Mark Sabin

Born in New York City and raised in Florida, Mark Sabin has produced paintings that embody a synthesis of the primitive and the surreal. The artist is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia University School of Law. He attended New York University Film School and worked for a time in the motion picture industry. He studied print-making at Pratt Graphics Center and has created lithographs, silkscreens, and etchings. Mark Sabin’s paintings and prints are in many prestigious collections, including the permanent collections of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York and the American Museum in Bath, England. His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries in New York, London, Montreal, Boston, Santa Fe, Philadelphia, and Palm Beach. His paintings have appeared on the cover of Harper’s Magazine and the Bloomingdale’s Christmas catalogue. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has selected his work for reproduction and his art has been featured in numerous leading publications. The artist currently lives and works in East Hampton, New York.
Watercolor painting

Sorel Etrog Biography

Sorel Etrog artist, writer, philosopher (born 29 August 1933 in Laşi, Romania; died 26 February 2014 in Toronto, Ontario). For more than half a century, Sorel Etrog was one of Canada’s most renowned contemporary sculptors.

Sorel Etrog, CM, artist, writer, philosopher (born 29 August 1933 in Laşi, Romania; died 26 February 2014 in Toronto, Ontario). For more than half a century, Sorel Etrog was one of Canada’s most renowned contemporary sculptors. A Member of the Order of Canada and a Chevalier dans L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, Etrog’s work is included in museum collections around the world, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Hirschorn Museum, Washington, DC, and the Tate Gallery, London. In 1968, Etrog was asked to design the Canadian film award called the Genie. A career-spanning retrospective of Etrog’s work was mounted at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013.

Early Life, Education, and Career

Born in Moldavia in what is now northwestern Romania, Etrog, who was Jewish, managed to survive the Second World War and immigrated along with his family to Israel in 1950. In Israel, he studied drawing, painting, sculpture, graphic design, and theater set design at the Tel Aviv Art Institute. His first exhibit in 1958 in Tel Aviv helped win him a scholarship to study at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. In 1959, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum purchased one of his early sculptures. It was during this period in New York that Etrog met his long-standing collector and patron, Samuel Zacks, leading to his first solo exhibition in Canada at Gallery Moos in Toronto. Etrog moved to Toronto is 1963 and became a Canadian citizen. He was one of the three artists who represented Canada at the 1966 Venice Biennale, alongside Alex Colville and Yves Gaucher.
Mature Style

Etrog’s style is deeply indebted to both surrealism and Pablo Picasso’s work of the 1930s, as well as to major 20th century sculptors such as Romanian-born modernist Constantin Brancusi and American abstract-expressionist David Smith. While much of Etrog’s work appears abstract, it invariably alludes to the figure and more specifically to the human form. Etrog’s overriding theme is the integrity of the human body in an industrialized world, and thus his sculptures typically consist of elaborately interlocking parts that resemble the elements of a machine. In Ariana (Big Queen) (1961–1963), for instance, a widening shaft rises from a pedestal and bursts into curving forms that resemble shoulders and a head. In another work in bronze, Don Giovanni (1967), knotted shapes rise into rough, rectangular wing-like shapes, eventually curving up to a triangle that stands in for a head.
While Etrog’s finest work is sculptural and in bronze — he worked directly with plaster models, which allowed him to give even large sculptures an intimate sense of detail and texture — he was also an accomplished painter and draftsman. Etrog typically used painting and drawing as a testing ground for ideas he then developed into larger sculptures. In Vladimir and Estragon (Waiting for Godot) (1967) — the title refers to the two main characters in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot —giant hands interlock with faceless heads inlaid with rings and bolts. Two Haitian Women (Homage to Gaugin) (1968/69), a painting in oil on Masonite in tribute to the great 19th century French painter Paul Gaugin, consists of schematic figures facing each other built up out of interlocking wrenches, the colours cool blue-greys and smouldering reds.

Public Commissions
Etrog received numerous major public commissions, including Expo 67, Montréal; SunLife Centre, Toronto; Windsor Sculpture Garden, Windsor, Ontario; Los Angeles County Museum; and Olympic Park in Seoul Korea. For the Pavilion of Canada at Expo 67, he created Flight (1967), which features a pair of wings sprouting from a dense knot of forms and twin heads hovering above. Dreamchamber (1976), located on Bloor Street in downtown Toronto, consists of large interlocking wedges of bronze that resemble a brain split open for view. Sun Life (1984), set in front of the Sun Life Financial Centre in downtown Toronto, is, on the other hand, more purely abstract, with rectangular bars jutting sharply from a circular base like rays of sunlight.
Other Activities

In addition to his work as a painter and sculptor, Etrog published poetry, plays, and non-fiction, including the books Dream Chamber: Joyce and the Dada Circus – a collage (1982) and The Kite (1984). He did book illustrations for Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. He also collaborated with Marshall McLuhan on the publication of Spiral in 1976, a book interweaving still images from his 1975 film of the same name with quotes from a wide variety of writers.

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Gustav Likan

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Gustav Likan, a painter from Yugoslavia, hasn`t been around Chicago much since the day in 1967 when the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts fired him from his job as professor because, he claims, he insulted the city`s Picasso sculpture. But he came back to town last weekend for a local exhibit of his paintings, and to try and recapture something he lost during the days when he was poor and sketching $10 portraits on Chicago street corners.

The prospects don`t look too good, though.

What he`s looking for is a portrait of his wife that he painted in 1958. Likan lost the portrait in 1962 in a Cook County sheriff`s auction after a brother-in-law sued him to get back $2,000 that Likan had borrowed so he and his family could migrate to the United States

Likan, now 77 and still painting in Austin, Tex., had made a name for himself decades before by painting portraits of Yugoslavia`s young King Peter and murals for Argentine First Lady Eva Peron`s schools.

But in Chicago in 1962, Likan was a struggling immigrant artist with a family. He didn`t have the money to pay off the court judgment, so his brother-in-law got the portrait for $355 at the auction. Likan thinks it quickly was resold.

The brother-in-law and his wife died without children in the mid-1960s, and the two families parted ways after the spat, so Likan doesn`t know where the painting went.

When Likan`s wife died last year, he decided he would like to have the portrait back, for sentimental and artistic reasons. He said he figures it`s somewhere in Chicago, on a wall or packed away in someone`s attic.

“It`s a dream, to have this picture,“ he said. “Maybe the owner is rich. He doesn`t need the painting. It`s worth a lot more to me, from an artistic standpoint and for my family.“

In other portraits-he would later paint Conrad Hilton, former President Herbert Hoover, and Samuel Cardinal Stritch, former Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago-Likan said he compromised a little to please his subjects. But he says he painted his wife just as he saw her. “That`s because she wasn`t paying,“ he explained.

His wife was 38 when she sat for the 30-by-40 inch painting. He portrayed her in a violet dress sitting on a sofa with a cat in her lap. The painting was valued at $2,000 when it was sold at auction in 1962, and Likan thinks today it would be worth about $8,000. He said he would be willing to swap another painting to get it back.

“My wife was so beautiful. The picture really had a lot of charm,“ he said.

Bob Chase, owner of Merrill Chase Galleries where Likan had his exhibit last weekend, said the artist was just devastated by his wife`s death. “They were together 50 years. This thing with the picture, it`s a human thing. I see his sorrow.“

But neither Likan nor anyone local are very hopeful.

“It could be anyplace. It`s like looking for a needle in a haystack,“

said Capt. James Zurawski of the Chicago Police Department`s financial investigation unit. Zurawski said his unit has handled only one case involving paintings in the last several years, and that involved a thief who eventually returned them.

“I used to work at the galleries,“ said Zurawski. “Paintings go for cash usually, and the buyer is usually just an initial.`


“It reduces down to any other kind of object, like a chair you lost 50 years ago,“ said Michael Galfer, vice president of merchandising at Merrill Chase. “If I want to find a particular painting of Renoir`s, that`s something people keep track of. But this is not the same kind of situation.“

Likan says he enjoyed living in Chicago. In 10 years, he saw it from top to bottom. “When we arrived, I tell you we had 10 cents in our pocket. I couldn`t even get downtown to get a job,“ he said. But on his second day in the city, he charged a man $10 for a street portrait, and the man gave him $50.

Later he had a studio with several other artists at 619 N. Michigan Ave., and was invited to Conrad Hilton`s office to paint a portrait of the founder of the hotel empire.

After he had established himself, he began teaching painting at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. But early one morning in 1967, a dean called to say that his classes had been canceled. The academy said it was because he didn`t have enough students, he allowed smoking in the classes and he never took attendance.

But Likan is convinced it had more to do with the TV interview he gave the night before, during which he belittled the Picasso sculpture in the Daley Center Plaza.

“I said `It`s not fine art, it`s decorative art,“` Likan recalls. “I said `It looks like it was built in a steel company. After three weeks you can throw it away.` The next day they fired me.“

“They always told me you`re in a free country,“ he says. “You can say anything you want, but don`t insult anyone.“

Relief Printmaking

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Intaglio Printmaking

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