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Romare Bearden

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Romare Bearden 


Romare Bearden   
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Romare Bearden (September 2, 1911–March 12, 1988) was an African-American artist and writer. He worked in several media including cartoons, oils, and collage.

Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. He attended De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx and completed his studies at New York University (NYU), graduating with a degree in education. His education was interrupted by stretches of time he spent as a professional baseball player in the Negro Leagues. Bearden took extensive courses in art and was a lead cartoonist and then art editor for the Eucleian Society monthly journal The Medley. Bearden had wide-ranging interests and abilities. He wrote and published articles on numerous topics and created political cartoons. He designed costumes and sets for prominent dance and theater companies, illustrated books by influential authors, co-wrote books about African American art and culture and composed songs. He was also offered an opportunity to play professional baseball for the Philadelphia Athletics, if he would agree to “pass as white”—an offer he refused.

He studied under German artist George Grosz at the Art Students League in 1936 and 1937. At this time his paintings were often of scenes in the American South, and his style was strongly influenced by the Mexican muralists, especially Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Shortly thereafter he began the first of his stints as a case worker for the New York Department of Social Services. During World War II, Bearden joined the United States Army, serving from 1942 until 1945. He would return to Europe in 1950 to study philosophy at the Sorbonne under the auspices of the GI Bill.

Between the war and his stay in Paris, Bearden had some important artistic successes. He developed a Cubist-inspired style of dark lines and thin color washes with which he produced fairly abstract representations of scenes from the Iliad and the Passion of Christ. He had several solo exhibitions during this time, but in 1949 he was dropped from the Samuel Kootz Gallery because his work was not abstract enough.

Bearden turned to music, co-writing the hit song “Sea Breeze", which was recorded by Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie; it is still considered a jazz classic. In 1954, at age 42, he married Nanette (Rohan) Bearden, a 27 year old accomplished dancer and noted beauty who herself became an artist and critic. The couple eventually created the Bearden Foundation to assist young artists. Nanette Bearden was also instrumental in convincing her husband to return to visual art.

In the late 1950s, Bearden's work became more abstract, using layers of oil paint to produce muted, hidden effects. In 1956, Bearden began studying with a Chinese calligrapher, whom he credits with introducing him to new ideas about space and composition in painting. He also spent a lot of time studying famous European paintings he admired, particularly the work of the Dutch artists Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, and Rembrandt. He began exhibiting again in 1960. About this time the couple established a second home in the Caribbean island of St. Maarten.

During the 1960s civil rights movement, his focus shifted again, this time to collage. After helping to found an artist's group in support of civil rights, Bearden's work became more representational and more overtly socially conscious. In 1964, he held an exhibition he called Projections, where he introduced his new collage style. These works were very well received, and were exhibited the following year at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. He would continue to work with variations of his collage style until his death, and these are generally considered to be his best work.

There have been numerous museum shows of Bearden's work since then, including a 1971 show at the Museum of Modern Art entitled Prevalence of Ritual, an exhibition of his highly prized prints entitled A Graphic Odyssey showing the work of the last fifteen years of his life, and the 2005 National Gallery of Art retrospective entitled The Art of Romare Bearden.

In "The Art of Romare Bearden", Ruth Fine describes his themes as "universal". "A well-read man whose friends were other artists, writers, poets and jazz musicians, Bearden mined their worlds as well as his own for topics to explore. He took his imagery from both the everyday rituals of African American rural life in the south and urban life in the north, melding those American experiences with his personal experiences and with the themes of classical literature, religion, myth, music and daily human ritual."

A mural by Romare Bearden in the Gateway Center subway station in Pittsburgh is worth $15 million, more than the cash-strapped transit agency expected, raising questions about how it should be cared for once it is removed before the station is demolished. "We did not expect it to be that much," Port Authority of Allegheny County spokeswoman Judi McNeil said Thursday. "We don't have the wherewithal to be a caretaker of such a valuable piece."

It would cost the agency more than $100,000 a year to insure the 60-foot-by-13-foot tile mural by Romare Bearden, McNeil said. Bearden was paid $90,000 for the mural, titled "Pittsburgh Recollections." It was installed in 1984.




The Calabash, 1970



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