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October 24, 2013


Filed under: Romare Beardon — Tags: — jherzlinger @ 8:07 am

I received a lot of emails regarding the post on Jimmy Lee Sudduth and I thought I would follow up that post with one on ROMARE BEARDON as many people had questions about him.  I have always had a penchant for folk art, as I previously wrote, I find that there is a wonderful warm and personable feeling that invites everyone to participate in a way with memories of their own.  Not necessarily memories of that of the artist, but those that have to do with one’s life on a personal level.

Many artists and art historians consider Romare Bearden one of America’s most important and inventive artists. But he’s hardly a household name.

Bearden’s primary medium was the collage, fusing painting, magazine clippings, old paper and fabric, like a jigsaw puzzle in upheaval. But unlike a puzzle, each piece of a Bearden collage

has a meaning and history all its own. Shortly before he died of cancer in 1988, Bearden said working with fragments of the past brought them into the now.

“When I conjure these memories, they are of the present to me,” he explained. “Because after all, the artist is a kind of enchanter in time.”

Bearden took snippets of Harlem life and shot them through with vivid images of the American South. His family moved from Mecklenburg, N.C., in 1914 when he was a toddler, and he grew up in the heart of the Harlem Renaissance.

Bearden’s mother was a dashing figure, a reporter for a leading black newspaper. Family friends included luminaries such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois and famous musicians who helped ignite Bearden’s passion for jazz.

One of Bearden’s first patrons would Duke Ellington. Much later, he designed a record cover for Wynton Marsalis

Bearden’s collages bring to mind the pleasing graphic unity of patchwork quilts, into which slaves once sewed coded messages about the Underground Railroad. Meaning literally came out of the seams.

Bearden’s dense, multilayered art nodded toward codes and complexity. They were cut, etched and painted with magazine photos from Life, Ebony and Look, recalling rural Southern shanties papered with newspaper clippings.

Marsalis says one favorite work by Bearden shows a Harlem street.

“All of these images of Harlem life,” says Marsalis, “Louis Armstrong’s in it, in the middle there’s a guy in overalls, which you would look at it, and you think, ‘That didn’t belong,’ but at that time, it certainly did belong.”




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