Romare Bearden


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American painter, collagist, writer, and lecturer. Bearden is regarded as a leading figure in black American culture, but it was only fairly late in life that he achieved widespread recognition, especially following a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1971. He was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, grew up there, in Pittsburgh, and in Harlem, and read mathematics at New York University, 1932–5, before studying under George Grosz at the Art Students League, 1936–7. During the Second World War he served in the US Army, and from 1950 to 1954 he lived abroad, travelling in Europe and north Africa (in 1951 he studied art history and philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris). His work up to this time had been varied in style (sometimes approaching abstraction) and had often used African imagery, but Jonathan Fineberg writes that ‘It was the Civil Rights movement in the early sixties, together with his discovery of black Caribbean culture on the island of St Martin in 1960, that seems to have galvanized him into focusing his artistic gifts on the complexity of the black experience, with all its heritage and adaptations, in late twentieth-century America’ (Art Since 1940, 1995). From 1964 his most characteristic works were collages combining fragmented photographic images with vivid flat areas of colour; their busy collisions and contrasts of pattern have evoked comparisons with jazz music (in which Bearden—like Stuart Davis, who influenced him—had a great interest). Bearden was visiting lecturer in African and Afro-American art at Williams College, Massachusetts, in 1969; he also lectured elsewhere, wrote several articles, and co-authored two books: The Painter's Mind (1969, with Carl Holty) and Six Black Masters of American Art (1972, with Harry Henderson).

Subjects: Art.

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