Romare Bearden

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Romare Bearden (September 2, 1911 – March 12, 1988) was an African- American artist and writer. He worked in several media including cartoons, oils, and collage.



Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1929 he graduated from Peabody High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He completed his studies at New York University (NYU), graduating with a degree in science and education.

After 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.[1]

Career as an artist

Bearden grew as an artist not by learning how to create new techniques and mediums, but by his life experiences, and the different decades he created art and the different events that took place completely reshaped his vision of art. He studied under German artist George Grosz at the Art Students League in 1936 and 1937. At this time his paintings were often of scenes in the American South, and his style was strongly influenced by the Mexican muralists, especially Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Shortly thereafter he began the first of his stints as a case worker for the New York Department of Social Services. During World War II, Bearden joined the United States Army, serving from 1942 until 1945. He would return to Europe in 1950 to study philosophy at the Sorbonne under the auspices of the GI Bill.

This completely changed his style of art as he started producing abstract representations of what he deemed as human; specifically scenes from the Passion of the Christ. He had evolved from what Edward Alden Jewell, a reviewer for the New York times, called a “debilitating focus on Regionalist and ethnic concerns” to what became known as his stylistic approach which participated in the post-war aims of avant-garde American art (Witkovsky 1989: 258). His works were exhibited in Sam Kootz’s gallery until his work was deemed not abstract enough.

During his success in the gallery, however, he produced Golgotha, a painting from his series of the Passion of the Christ (see Figure 1). Golgotha is an abstract representation of the Crucifixion. The eye of the viewer is drawn to the middle of the image first, where Bearden has rendered Christ’s body. The body parts are stylized into abstract geometric shapes, yet still too realistic to be concretely abstract; this work has a feel of early Cubism. The body is in a central position and yet darkly contrasting with the highlighted crowds. The crowds of people are on the left and right, and are encapsulated within large spheres of bright colors of purple and indigo. The background of the painting is depicted in lighter jewel tones dissected with linear black ink. Bearden used these colors and contrasts because of the abstract influence of the time, but also for their meanings.

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