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By Culturekiosque Staff

NEW YORK, 27 MARCH 2011 — The American artist Romare Bearden’s oeuvre of more than 2,000 known works in many media reveals the diverse influences of earlier Western masters ranging from Duccio, Giotto, and de Hooch to Cézanne, Picasso, and Matisse, as well as his fascination with African art (particularly sculpture, masks, and textiles), Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints, and Chinese paintings. They also reveal the places where Bearden lived and worked: the rural south; northern cities, principally Pittsburgh and New York’s Harlem; and the Caribbean island of St. Martin. They also reflect his wide range of interests and explore often overlapping themes of religion, ritual practice, everyday life, jazz clubs, brothels, history, mythology, and literature.

On view until 21 May 2011, the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York presents its second solo show of Bearden’s work and the first to focus exclusively on collage, the medium through which Bearden arrived at his mature style. Created between 1964 and 1983, the twenty-one works in the exhibition exemplify Bearden’s exceptional talent for storytelling as well as his mastery of the medium’s fragmentation of form and space.

Romare Bearden: King and Queen of Diamonds, 1964
Mixed media collage on cardboard, 20 x 20 inches (sheet size)
Signed and dated 
Photo courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

While Bearden’s early work consisted of figural paintings inspired by the social realism that dominated the 1930s, a trip to Paris in 1950 inspired him to move closer to abstraction. In the early 1960s, he turned to collage in "an attempt to redefine the image of man in terms of the black experience." Cutting and pasting photographs, paper, fabric, newspaper, and magazines, Bearden often added gouache, ink, pencil, and oil to his kaleidoscopic surfaces, creating dazzling compositions that focused on themes as expansive as his own talent. He redefined the image of humanity not in terms of "the black experience," but black experiences — rural and urban, African, American, and Caribbean. Timed to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of Bearden’s birth, Romare Bearden: Collage, A Centennial Exhibition offers a thrilling array of histories, identities, activities, and locations — from the African kingdoms referenced in King and Queen of Diamonds (1964), to the migration north evoked in Sunset Limited (1974), to the multiple city lives that appear in The Tenement World (1969).

Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, the seat of Mecklenburg County, on 2 September 1911. About 1914, his family joined in the Great Migration north, settling in New York City, which remained Bearden’s base for the rest of his life. Hr studied at Boston University before receiving his BS in Education from New York University in 1935. The following year, he attended the Art Students League, where he studied with George Grosz.

Romare Bearden: The Fall of Troy, 1977
Mixed media collage on Masonite
36 inches x 48 inches, signed
Photo courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

From 1933 to 1937, Bearden also worked as a cartoonist, publishing drawings in The Crisis (the journal of the NAACP) and the Baltimore-based Afro-American. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army and then used funding from the GI Bill to study art history and philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. Bearden’s achievements as an artist were matched only by his energy as a scholar and arts activist at a time when art history was defined almost exclusively in terms of whiteness. He was a founding member of Spiral group (1963), a co-founder with Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow of the Cinque Gallery (1969) — a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of work by artists of color — and an active founding member of the Studio Museum in Harlem (1968). In 1970, Bearden became one of the fifty founding members of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, established to "define, preserve, promote, and develop the arts and letters of black people."

His many awards and honors include the National Medal of Arts he received from President Ronald Reagan in 1987, one year before he died in 1988.

Headline image: Romare Bearden: Morning Train to Durham, 1981
Acrylic, gouache, ink, pencil, and paper collage on composite board
18 inches x 13 3/4 inches, signed
Photo courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Romare Bearden (1911-1988): COLLAGE, A Centennial Celebration
26 March - 21 May 2011
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
24 West 57th Street
7th Floor
New York, NY 10019

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