The Life and Art of Romare Bearden
I recently came across this website, as I was searching for information on artist, Romare Bearden. The excerpts below are taken directly from the website, here and here. In case you are not familiar with Bearden’s life and work, please visit the site and enjoy the virtual tour, which includes a biography and a showcase of his wonderful art.
“The complex and colorful art of Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is autobiographical and metaphorical. Rooted in the history of western, African, and Asian art, as well as in literature and music, Bearden found his primary motifs in personal experiences and the life of his community. Born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Bearden moved as a toddler to New York City, participating with his parents in the Great Migration of African Americans to states both north and west. The Bearden home became a meeting place for Harlem Renaissance luminaries including writer Langston Hughes, painter Aaron Douglas, and musician Duke Ellington, all of whom undoubtedly would have stimulated the young artist’s imagination.
Bearden maintained a lifelong interest in science and mathematics, but his formal education was mainly in art, at Boston University and New York University, from which he graduated in 1935 with a degree in education. He also studied at New York’s Art Students League with the German immigrant painter George Grosz, who reinforced Bearden’s interest in art as a conveyor of humanistic and political concerns. In the mid-1930s Bearden published dozens of political cartoons in journals and newspapers, including the Baltimore based Afro-American, but by the end of the decade he had shifted the emphasis of his work to painting.
During a career lasting almost half a century Bearden produced approximately two thousand works. Best known for his collages, he also completed paintings, drawings, monotypes, and edition prints; murals for public spaces, record album jackets, magazine and book illustrations, and costume and set designs for theater and ballet.
From shortly after he graduated from college through the late 1960s Bearden maintained a full-time job with New York’s Department of Social Services, specializing in cases within the gypsy community. Work in his studio was concentrated at night and on weekends. Nevertheless, starting in 1940 Bearden’s art was represented in solo and group exhibitions, both in Harlem and downtown (below 110th Street), and it consistently received enthusiastic reviews. Religious rituals and literature played an important role in Bearden’s life and art. So did music–from sights and sounds of folk musicians gathered for “the Saturday night function” in the south, to the hot tempo of Harlem clubs and dance halls.
In the early 1950s Bearden devoted considerable attention to song writing, and several of his collaborations were published as sheet music, among the most famous of which is “Seabreeze,” recorded by Billy Eckstine. In addition, throughout his life Bearden wrote essays on social and art-historical subjects, as well as three full-length books coauthored with friends: The Painter’s Mind: A Study of the Relations of Structure and Space in Painting (1969) with painter Carl Holty; and Six Black Masters of American Art (1972) and A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present (posthumously, 1993), both with journalist Harry Henderson.”
[The painting displayed above is, Captivity and Resistance, 1976, a collage of various fabrics on canvas African American Museum in Philadelphia © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y. The central theme is the 1839 Mende rebellion aboard the sailing ship Amistad. Prince Cinque, the hero of the battle, is portrayed at center holding a staff. At right is the ominous apparatus for a lynching, presumably that of John Brown whose spirit shadow hangs over figures representing abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman].