Iconic artist Ernie Barnes’ famous painting “The Sugar Shack,” which appeared on the 1970s TV sitcom “Good Times” and one of Marvin Gayes’ album covers, sold for $15.3 million to hedge fund manager and entrepreneur Bill Perkins.
A Houston-based energy trader and amateur poker player, Perkins outbid more than 22 bidders at Christie’s auction house to purchase the popular “The Sugar Shack” work by the legendary late artist, CNN reported. Its final sale price far exceeded the $150,000 to $200,000 estimate.
In an Instagram post, Perkins posted a photo of her and his fiancée, Lara Sebastian, standing next to their prized possession. In the caption, Perkins said purchasing the painting was “a childhood dream come true.”
Born in 1938 and raised in segregated North Carolina, Barnes used his personal life experiences to inform his art. He was dubbed the “Picasso of the Black art world” by the Oakland Tribune in 2002.
He said the inspiration for “The Sugar Shack” came from his being forbidden to attend a childhood dance. “I got the idea for ‘The Sugar Shack’ by reflecting on my childhood and not being able to go to a dance I wanted to go to when I was 11,” Barnes told the Tribune.
The painting was featured on Gaye’s classic “I Want You” album as well as in the closing credits of the classic “Good Times” show.
Though he studied art in college and was always sketching, Barnes was a professional football player before he went into art full time.
He became known for his unique paintings of elongated figures with exaggerated features and was a sought-after artist who painted commissioned works for the NBA, Kanye West and Sylvester Stallone, according to the New York Times.
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Despite its hefty price tag, Perkins said he believes his purchase was a deal.
“I stole it — I would have paid a lot more,” Perkins, 53, told the Times in a telephone interview after the sale. “For certain segments of America, it’s more famous than the ‘Mona Lisa.’”
Perkins, who is Black, was raised in Jersey City, where his father, an attorney, and his mother, an educator, owned several works by the abstract artist Norman Lewis.
He noted the cultural importance of Barnes’ art, saying he became an admirer of it through Gaye’s album and watching “Good Times.”
“You never saw paintings of Black people by Black artists,” Perkins said. “This introduced not just me but all of America to Barnes’s work. It’s the only artwork that has ever done that. And these were firsts. So this is never going to happen again. Ever. The cultural importance of this piece is just crazy.”
Another of Barnes’ paintings – “Storm Dance” – sold in the same auction for $2.3 million. It’s one Perkins said he also intended to buy but found himself “weary and elated from battle” over the “Sugar Shack.”
He said he is grateful for his good fortune in getting the painting he wanted.
“I’ve been waiting like 40 years for this moment,” Perkins said. “The good news is, I got the piece. The bad news is, I don’t think I’m going to be able to steal these things anymore.”
Perkins focuses on venture capital and energy markets. He founded Small Ventures USA, L.P in 1997 and joined Centaurus Energy in 2002. He is the founder, managing partner and chief information officer for Skylar Capital Management.
PHOTO: Ernie Barnes’s artwork, “The Sugar Shack,” is previewed at Christie’s auction house, May 9, 2022, in New York.