Celebrating Black History Month - Romare Bearden
Known for his creativity and originality, Romare Bearden was an innovative artist who depicted the lived African American experience.
Born on September 2, 1911, Romare Howard Bearden moved to New York City at a young age and was introduced to the vibrant world of the Harlem Renaissance. Family friends included Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois and famous jazz musicians. One of Bearden's first patrons would Duke Ellington and later he would produce a record cover for Wynton Marsalis.
Bearden’s life experiences provided the inspiration for his artwork. A versatile artist, his media included watercolors, oils, cartoons, and collages. As his primary medium, the collage allowed Bearden to fuse painting, magazine clippings, old paper and fabric to create abstract representations of humanity. Through the collage, Bearden was able to disseminate a socially conscious message in which he depicted African Americans dealing with the aftermath of the rights gained in the 1950s.
Bearden’s activities both as an artist and an activist illustrate his commitment to equality. In 1963, Bearden sponsored a gathering of artists to discuss political questions related to civil rights and the plight of blacks in the United States. The group, which was named “Spiral,” sought to define “black art” and to interlace art and social consciousness. In 1964 Bearden was appointed the first art director of the newly established Harlem Cultural Council, a prominent African-American advocacy group.
Bearden’s distinguished career and unique approach to voicing the African American experience earned him numerous honors. Two of Bearden’s collages appeared on the covers of Fortune and Time magazines in 1968. In 1972, Bearden was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1984, he received the New York City Mayor's Award of Honor for Art and Culture, and in 1987 he was presented with the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence, by President Ronald Reagan.
Bearden’s depiction of black culture in a cubist form gave a new interpretation of the African American experience in a time when the laws and culture of the United States were in a process of re-defining what it meant to be Black. Bearden was essential to grounding the definition of black art and black culture in the actual experiences of African Americans.
Images courtesy of the National Gallery of Art