Romare Bearden is clearly an artist whose remarkable work I wish I had been been familiar with long ago. But I only recently became aware of it. On the other hand, it is a joy to discover unfamiliar work that is this impressive.
He worked over along period of time in many mediums but his collage work is what I am going to discuss here. Because of my work in progress Memory Landscapes I am especially interested in collage.
Text is from The Art Story
A prominent American artist, Romare Bearden created dazzling work celebrating the black American experience, which he integrated into greater (predominantly white) American modernism. After working several decades as a painter, during the politically tumultuous 1960s Bearden found his own voice by creating collages made of cut and torn photographs found in popular magazines that he then reassembled into visually powerful statements on African-American life. The artist’s subject matter encompassed the urban milieu of Harlem, traveling trains, migrants, spiritual “conjure” women, the rural South, jazz, and blues musicians, and African-American religion and spirituality. Late in his life, the artist established The Romare Bearden Foundation to aid in the education and training of talented art students. Bearden remains revered as a highly esteemed artist of the 20th century.
Although influenced by high modernists such as Henri Matisse, Bearden’s collages also derived from African-American slave crafts such as patchwork quilts and the necessity of making artwork from whatever materials were available. This turn to quotidian materials helped break the divide between the fine and popular arts, enabling a greater number of cultures and people to participate in the creation of arts.
Through his culling of images from mainstream pictorial magazines such as Look and Life, and black magazines such as Ebony and Jet, Bearden inserted the African-American experience, its rich visual and musical production, and its contemporary racial strife and triumphs into his collages, thus expressing his belief in the connections between art and social reality.
Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso introduced collage into the modernist vocabulary. In it, Bearden located a methodology that allowed him to incorporate much of his life experience as an African American, from the rural South to the urban North and to Paris, into his work.
I work most often in intimately sized images in my photography. In Memory Landscapes I am aesthetically playing with size and the way the perception of different images changes in that context. So I found this information from his foundation especially important. And of course I share “his belief in the connections between art and social reality.”
What gave these collages special power was their size. Originally they were no larger than 14 by 18 inches, but striving for monumentality, Bearden had them photographed and blown up to large black and white sheets, which he named ‘Projections.’ Their size was typically six by eight feet or four by five feet. . . Reviewers hailed them as ‘startling,’ ’emphatic,’ ‘moving,’ ‘memorable’ and ‘propagandistic in the best sense.’
In terms of my own work I am interested in the both in the their small size and the use of “ collages made of cut and torn photographs found in popular magazines” as his basic material. Since in a different way and context, I am using historical and contemporary images in Memory Landscapes. Images can be extremely powerful in any size.
Go to the the Romare Bearden Foundation web site under “Art” in the menu, to see the extensive range of his work. He did remarkable and diverse work from the 30’s into the 80’s.