Exhibit | Project Gallery: Romare Bearden
Romare Bearden. Mysteries II, 1964. Photostat mounted on fiberboard. 50 1/2 x 62 1/2 inches. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York.
Romare Bearden is one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth century, his work telling the story of how the people lived throughout the nation for over half a century. Born in 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina, his family soon after that moved to New York City during the first wave of the Great Migration. Politically active, the Bearden home became a meeting place for major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, and young Romare was given early exposure to the arts.
He enrolled in Lincoln University, the nation’s first HBCU, before transferring to Boston University and later New York University to study art. After serving in the United States Army from 1942–45, Bearden returned to Europe in 1950 to study philosophy at the Sorbonne under the GI Bill. In the summer of 1963, A. Philip Randolph, a labor leader, invited Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff to organize a group of artists to become involved with the Civil Rights Movement. Together, they created Spiral, which sought to resurrect the communal spirit of the Harlem Renaissance.
It was during this time that Bearden began experimenting, this time with the collage, and as he started to restructure his representations of reality, the work became more overtly socially conscious. He began using clippings from glassy magazines, which were relatively new, and he made use of the highly modern aspects of popular culture in his artworks. By combining the materials of commercial life with political concepts and empowering narratives, Bearden imbued his work with the spirit of the times.
In 1964, Bearden produced a photomontage series called Projections that documented his childhood memories in North Carolina and his family’s migration North. Scenes of daily life in urban and rural environments are drawn from his memories of life on the farm, on the road, and with the family. In honor of this historic exhibition, Perez Art Museum Miami presents Project Gallery: Romare Bearden on view now through June 26, 2016.
For Projections, Bearden created 21 small collages, which he subsequently converted into large black-and-white photographic images. Although collage was not a new medium when Bearden started to use it, his approach took it to the next level. “I have incorporated techniques of the camera eye and the documentary film to, in some measure, personally involve the onlooker,” Bearden observed. “In most instances in creating a picture, I use many disparate elements to form a figure or part of a background. I rarely use an actual photograph of a face but build them, for example, from parts of African masks, animal eyes, marbles, corn and mossy vegetation. I then have my small original works enlarged so the mosaic-like joinings will not be so apparent…. I have found, when some detail, such as a hand or an eye, is taken out of its original context and is fractured and integrated into a different space and form configuration, it acquires a plastic quality it did not have in the photograph.”
It is this level of understanding of the medium that makes Bearden a master of the form. But it is his gift for storytelling and his ability to understand and reveal the human character that makes Bearden one of the greatest of all time.
Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.