Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden's life was full of movement. Born in 1912 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden's family moved shortly thereafter to Harlem where their apartment was a popular meeting place for intellectuals and artists such as W.E.B. DuBois, Aaron Douglas, and Charles Alston during the Renaissance. In 1925, Bearden moved to Pittsburgh where he eventually graduated from high school, and later came back to New York, obtaining his bachelor's degree in mathematics from New York University. The painter eventually joined the "306" group and continued his study of European painting which was later to exert a heavy influence on his work. After serving in the army for three years, Bearden studied philosophy in Paris at the Sorbonne, returning to New York afterward to paint.

Bearden's intellectualism seems to have strongly influenced his work; and the painter seems to have been ultra-conscious about the changes in the style of his work. Experimenting with abstract expressionism for a time, Bearden later sought, in the 1960's as part of the "Spiral" group, to contribute through his painting to the civil rights movement. Bearden's later work draws on a myriad of different traditions. Combining inspiration from jazz and the blues, classical mythology, Chinese calligraphy, the African American experience, and certain European painters (Zurbaran, Mondrian, Breughel, and Goya, to name a few), Bearden's work is incredibly diverse in medium, iconography, and style.

In a Green Shade, 1984. Collage and watercolor
on board, 30 x 22 in.

Pepper Jelly Lady (Presidential Portfolio), 1980.
color lithograph on paper, 25 and 15/16 x 21 3/16 in.

Perhaps most interesting here, however, is Bearden's study of the African American rural southern experience which was largely influenced by the large amounts of time the painter spent in the West Indies. "Pepper Jelly Lady" is case in point. Using bright Afro-Caribbean colors, Bearden's painting depicts a diverse scene: a Caribbean woman, a small train moving train in the background, outer sketches invoking images of his great-grandparents in North Carolina. Bearden's choices stylistically and in medium seem not to have been confined to producing a single aesthetic. Though largely self-conscious, his work seems to suggest an intense amalgamation of influences which eventually formed a style uniquely their own, and suggesting the whole time strong links to a larger community.

To the Bearden Gallery

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