Works by and about Romare Bearden
The Art of Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual (1973)
History of African American Artists,1792 to Present (1993)
Six Black Masters of American Art (1972) /
I Live in Music (1994) /
Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare-Bearden-1940-1987
Romare Bearden (2004) /
H. Pippim (1976) /
The Painter's Mind: A Study of the Relations of Structure and
Space in Painting (1969)
* * * *
About Romare Bearden, Artist
By Amin Sharif
Romare Bearden has been called by American art
critics Myron Schwarzman “the foremost American artist who
portrayed the African American experience through the language
of narrative and metaphor.” Born in Charlotte, North Carolina
in 1921, Bearden’s family moved early in his life to Harlem,
New York. It would be there that Bearden’s social activist
parents would entertain in their home the most notable writers,
musicians, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance. It was through
these historic figures and his family’s deep concern for
social reform that Bearden would inherit both his political and
Not just an artist, Romare Bearden was a multi-talented
genius. He played one year of professional baseball in Boston,
played in jazz bands, and even composed music. Bearden’s composition Sea
Breeze was recorded by both Billy Eckstein and Tito Puente.
And, Bearden also designed sets for Alvin Alley’s Dance
Company. His early artistic work was to find its way into
publications such as The
Baltimore Afro-American, Colliers, and the
Saturday Day Evening Post.
Romare Bearden was a highly educated man. He attended New
York University graduating with a degree in mathematics. After
serving in the military, Bearden studied philosophy in Paris.
Eventually, Bearden returned to the United States and obtained a
graduate degree in social work from Columbia University in 1966.
In his lifetime, Bearden was to receive five honorary degrees
and the prestigious President’s National Medal of Art in 1988.
Always believing in the social responsibility of the artist,
Bearden formed the Spiral Group composed of African American
artist in 1963. The Spiral Group sought to make a contribution
to the Civil Rights Movement that was at its apex at this time.
It was during this time that Bearden developed his famous
“collage technique.” The technique “represented a
stylistic breakthrough” for Bearden. And it would be a
technique that Bearden would refine throughout his life. This
collage technique--called by its creator
“photomontage”--consisted of clippings from popular
magazines, black and white photography, and pieces of
Bearden’s art. The result of Bearden’s photomontage was
often startling, sometimes mystical, sometimes socially
Though Bearden complains in his essay
"The Negro Artist and Modern Art" that Negro artists had developed
nothing “original” akin to spirituals and jazz, Bearden’s
photomontage technique, as well as his paintings, would place
him far beyond any such criticism. Bearden following his own
advice in using local settings created magnificent works. It was
said of his work Bayou
Fever that invoked “African heritage rooted strongly in
Louisiana and about the African Diaspora in the Caribbean and
It was not only locale that made Bearden’s work so
interesting. Found in this artist’s work are a deep
appreciation for the “ancient myths and traditional ritual”
embedded in African and African American society.
In addition to
these unique factors, we find that Bearden is not afraid to
place the seal of his own symbolism on his work. We find all of
these themes present in Bearden’s Prevalence
of Ritual series.
Perhaps the most famous work of this
series is Bearden’s Prodigal
Son based on the New Testament story. James Weldon Johnson
included the same tale in his famous collection of sermons God’s
Not only are traditional ritual and ancient myth essential in
Bearden’s work, we also find jazz and the blues themes
represented on his canvases.
Indeed, many critics assert that “jazz is the aesthetic
pulse” of Bearden’s work. Bearden, we know, completed some
“illustrations” based on the subject for an “unrealized”
book inspired by the 1961 movie Paris
One might recall that the movie starred Paul Newman,
Joane Woodward, Sidney Poiter, and Diahann Carol. The musical
score of the movie was provided by the great jazz composer Duke
Ellington. And the movie also included a cameo appearance by
Louis Armstrong. By the way, Paris
Blues was not the only movie that Bearden was to be
involved, he painted some twenty-two watercolors for the New
York scenes of John Cassavette’s film Gloria.
Among Bearden’s many works on jazz and blues are his Le
Jazz, Out of Chorus, and Louisiana
In closing, we must touch on the only criticism launched
against Bearden’s work that is his preference for “social
realism.” Bearden says that it was when he joined the
“Artist Students League” studying under George Grosz that he
began to include “social commentary” within his art. But one
must remember that almost from birth, Bearden was exposed to
social protest-- if not by his activist parents, then most
certainly by the Negro intellectuals that visited his home. But
the fact is that Bearden’s works are never harmed, but are
only enhanced, by his keen eye and acknowledgement of the
suffering of the black and poor in which he came in contact.
Indeed, in such works as the Factory
Workers, Bearden give humanity and dignity to his fellow
Negro--a value too often denied the Negro within American
society. If this be the only fault in Bearden’s work, then it
is one that is more than acceptable to those who have come to
love this genius and his great artistic accomplishments. Bearden
died in 1988 after a full and productive life.
* * * *
Ralph Ellison on Bearden and African
First, I should tell you that
although I’ve been collecting African art for a long time, I am not a
Pan-Africanist. I love the art for itself. Nor am I anti-Africa.
[Laughter.] No, as far as writing goes, I’ve not been influenced by
Bearden, although I met him during what I believe was his first period.
He was doing the heroic, mural type of painting which was developed by
such artists as Diego Rivera. Later, I was to have many talks with him,
and over the years, I always found him stimulating and conscious of
where he was going.
As a serious artist in his own
field, Bearden still affirms and strengthens me in my own work. . . .
concerning the influence of one artist upon another, I’d say that it
frequently takes other forms than that of copying or trying to do what
another artist or writer does in his precise manner. That is mere
imitation. But, sometimes, by working in his chosen form, a fellow
artist can affirm one’s own effort and give you the courage to struggle
with the problems of your medium.
So, in that light, you might say
that Bearden influenced me. Just by knowing him at a time when we were
both working hard and without much recognition, I found strength for my
own efforts. He had faith in the importance of artistic creation, and I
learned something about the nature of painting from listening to his
discussions of his craft. Look around, and you’ll see that I own a
number of his works. So, as I see it, it’s not the imitation of an
artist’s work, or even his endorsement of your talent, that’s of basic
importance, but this assertion of artistic ideals, and the example of
his drive to achieve excellence.
But, then I’ve found a similar
affirmation in the examples of football players, jazz musicians—who for
me are the most important—tap dancer, and even a few bootleggers
[Laughter]. Such people attract me with a certain elegance and flair for
style, as have certain preachers and teachers.
I never attended anything but
segregated schools, from first grade through graduation, and yet certain
fine teachers inspired me to do the best I had in me. Being angry over
segregation, it took me a while to realize that despite a handful of
indifferent teachers, I also had a few that were excellent, people who
still inspire me.
Source: The Essential Ellison
(Interview)—Ishmael Reed, Quincy Troupe, Steve Cannon. Ishmael Reed’s
and Al Young’s Y’Bird • Copyright © 1977, 1978 Y’Bird Magazine
* * * *
"I try to show,"
Bearden once said, "that when some things are taken out of
the usual context and put in the new, they are given an
entirely new character."
And a patchwork quilt, no matter
how rich its pattern, is always made out of remnants cut
from their context—out of scraps of outworn cloth, now put
to a new use, and acquiring a nobler quality. Whether faded
or frayed, their role in a new design refreshes their
meaning and beauty.
Quilt, made up, in part, of exactly such fragments of cloth,
has a share in this kind of ennoblement.
A student of many
cultures, Bearden took Egyptian tomb reliefs as his
inspiration for the figure, with its graceful lines, its
distinctive left arm and hand, its sideways posture, and its
legs parted as if in midstride.
Another influence was
the centuries-old sculpture of Benin. These bases in high,
specifically African aesthetics claim a regal ancestry for
Bearden's lounging African American woman.
In fact, his work lives in its
cosmopolitan and democratic fusions—of the distinguished heritage of
painting and the domestic practice of quilting (in which there is a
distinct African American tradition), of analytic art (in the echoes of
Cubism) and household decoration, and of everyday leisure and utter
The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA
Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally
published 1999, p. 276
* * *
A History of African-American Artists
From 1792 to the Present
By Romare Bearden and
The late Romare
Bearden, a premier African American artist in his own right,
devoted 15 years to researching and writing this magnificent
study of the lives and achievements of 36 significant
African American artists born prior to 1925. He and longtime
friend and coauthor Henderson were motivated by frustration
over the lack of literature on black artists.
perseverance and determination, they managed to track down
forgotten artwork, piece together vivid biographical
portraits, and conduct interviews with surviving artists,
who, in spite of their stature and longevity, had never
before been interviewed. As Bearden and Henderson set the
scene, historically speaking, for such artists as
Robert S. Duncanson,
Henry Ossawa Tanner, they expose the degree to which
racism limited opportunities for black artists.
The life stories of the artists associated with the Black Renaissance
during the 1920s—such as
the first painter to boldly celebrate urban African American society;
and sculptor and influential mentor Augusta Savage--are recorded with
consummate insight, as are accounts of the giants of the Depression era,
and Jacob Lawrence.
Richly illustrated and written with resounding empathy and pride, this
is a major contribution to the literature on African American history
and to the annals of American art.—Booklist
Himself one of the most prominent
modern African American artists, Bearden conceived this landmark volume,
treating more than 50 of his predecessors and contemporaries, before his
death in 1988. Henderson has ably carried on his mission in a lavishly
illustrated book containing 250 black-and-white and 61 color
reproductions. Opening in the 18th century with Joshua Johnston, the
authors go on to examine the work of
Alma Thomas, and
others born before 1925. Their lives and careers, which often involved
overcoming racial barriers, are portrayed against the backdrop of
artistic, social, and political events; black Renaissance and Depression
artists receive the most attention. This thoroughly researched
conspectus is a solid choice for U.S. art and history collections.—Library
* * * *
Romare Bearden (September 2, 1911 – March 12, 1988) was an
African- American artist and writer. He worked in several media
Bearden was born in
Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1929 he
Peabody High School in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He completed
his studies at
New York University (NYU), graduating
with a degree in science and education.
he started to focus more on his art and less on athletics, he took
courses in art that led to him being a lead cartoonist and art editor
for the Eucleian Society's (a secretive student society at NYU) monthly
journal, The Medley. . . .
his most famous series, Prevalence of Ritual, concentrated mostly on
southern African American life. He used these collages to show his
rejection of the Harmon Foundation’s, the Chicago arts organization,
emphasis on the idea that African Americans must reproduce their culture
in their art (Greene, 1971). Bearden found this to be a burden on
African artists, because he saw this idea creating an emphasis on
reproducing something that already exists in the world. He used this new
series to speak out against this limitation on Black artists, and to
emphasize modern art. . . .
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."
. . .
Bearden died in New York on March 12, 1988 due to complications from
bone cancer. In their obituary for him, the New York Times called
Bearden "one of America's pre-eminent artists" and "the nation's
* * *
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * *
The Persistence of the Color Line
Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency
By Randall Kennedy
Among the best things about
The Persistence of the Color Line
is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the
positions about Mr. Obama staked out by
black commentators on the left and
right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel
West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley.
He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr.
Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism
regarding whether blacks should back
Obama” . . .
finest chapter in
The Persistence of the Color Line
is so resonant, and so personal, it
could nearly be the basis for a book of
its own. That chapter is titled
“Reverend Wright and My Father:
Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”
Recalling some of the criticisms of
America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s
former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with
feeling about his own father, who put
each of his three of his children
through Princeton but who “never forgave
American society for its racist
mistreatment of him and those whom he
His father distrusted the police, who had
frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr.
Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong
had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father,
and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
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Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
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18 April 2012