Romare Bearden, American (1911 - 1988)

Romare Bearden, painter and collage maker, fills his works with the symbols and myths of the American black experience.

Romare Howard Bearden was born on September 2, 1911, to (Richard) Howard and Bessye Bearden in Charlotte, North Carolina, and died in New York City on March 12, 1988, at the age of 76. His life and art are marked by exceptional talent, encompassing a broad range of intellectual and scholarly interests, including music, performing arts, history, literature and world art. Bearden was also a celebrated humanist, as demonstrated by his lifelong support of young, emerging artists.

Romare Bearden was honored during his lifetime and posthumously with numberous prestigious awards, publications and exhibitions. Along with representation in the importatn public and private collections he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts and honored with a groundbreaking retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. A master collagist, Bearden is celebrated today as a preeminent, highly prolific artist of exceptional and multifaceted talents and interests. He was a jazz aficionado, and author of scholoarly books, a song writer/lyricist as well an arts activist and an engaged humanist. Bearden incorporated into his art work a rich ontage of influences from American, African, Asian and European art and culture and took inspiration from memories and experiences of the rural South, the urban North and the Caribbean.

After he served in the army during World War II, Bearden's work appeared in several well-publicized shows. During the 1940s, he combined African symbols, such as masks and "conjur women" with stylized realism. In 1950, he went to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne. In Paris he met James Baldwin, Constantin Brancusi and George Braque, all of whom influenced his work. He returned to New York City in 1954.

After his stay in Paris, Bearden's work became more abstract. He used oil paint almost as if it were watercolor, layering washes of indistinct shape over thickened bars of woven colors. Shapes seem to float on the surface, in part because of their softened, muted tones.

Bearden was profoundly influenced by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. During this period he used collage to express the rhythms of black music. Symbolic masks and faces float in interiors and landscapes.

In 1963, Bearden began work on the "Prevalence of Ritual" series. Prevalence of Ritual: Tidings (1973, North Carolina National Bank Corporation), a collage of cut and torn paper with polymer paint, is typical of the way he mingles abstract shapes and landscapes to evoke his memories of the customs and ceremonies of the black south.

Throughout his career, Bearden has promoted opportunities for black artists. He has served as art director of the Harlem Cultural Council, and helped organize the Cinque Gallery. In 1969, he wrote The Painter's Mind with Carl Holty.

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

2003 The Art of Romare Bearden, retrospective exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art Washington, DC. Traveled to the Dallas Museum of ARt, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum in New York and the High Museum in Atlanta.

1991 Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden retrospective exhibition organized by the Studio Museum of Harlem. Traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Wight Gallery, Los Angeles, The High Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

1971 Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual, on e of Bearden's first retrospectives opened at the Museum of Modern Art, NY in 1971.

A Graphic Odyssey, an exhibition of his prints traveled for over 6 years to museums all over the U.S. His work is included in many mportant public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Mint Museum, the Detroit Institue of the Arts, and the Dallas Museum of Art.

Among Bearden's numerous publications are: A History of African American Artists: From 1792 to the Present, which was coauthored with Harry Henderson and published posthumously in 1993; The Caribbean Poetry of Derek Walcott and the Art of Romare Bearden (1983); Six Black Masters of American Art, coauthored with Harry Henderson (1972); The Painter's Mind: A Study of the Relations of Structure and Space in Painting, coauthored with Carl Holty (1969); and Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story, a children's book published posthumously in September 2003.

Bearden's work is included in many important public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among others. He has had retrospectives at the Mint Museum of Art (1980), the Detroit Institute of the Arts (1986), as well as numerous posthumous retrospectives, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (1991) and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2003).

Bearden was the recipient of many awards and honors throughout his lifetime. Honorary doctorates were given by Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Davidson College and Atlanta University, to name but a few. He received the Mayor's Award of Honor for Art and Culture in New York City in 1984 and the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Ronald Reagan, in 1987.

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