Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden, Berkeley––The City and Its People, 1973

While I was in school for my undergraduate degree I discovered Romare Bearden in an art history class. He was so influential to me (and still is). At that time I was interested in mixed media and I had started experimenting with adding collage to my paintings. He was one of the first artists I encountered that worked successfully in mixed media. He would add a variety of papers to his pieces, including matte colored construction papers, pressure sensitive glossy laminates, brightly printed sheets, wallpaper and wrapping paper, as well as bright foils and patterned fabrics. He would also alter the paper on his canvas with other collage elements: adding painted areas using spray paint and brush paints. He used the term “collage-paintings” to describe his art. To me it was inspiration come to life.

Romare Bearden, Winter (Time of the Hawk), 1985

Mixed media is easy to do, but hard to get right. What is special about Bearden’s work is its sense of time and place. He made collage a medium for celebrating his African-American heritage and culture. I’ll never forget being able to see his work in person at the Whitney Museum. It took on a whole other dimension – being able to see the colors and textures of his work. He grew as an artist not by learning new mediums, but by his life experiences. Before his death, Bearden claimed the collage fragments aided him in ushering the past into the present: “When I conjure these memories, they are of the present to me, because after all, the artist is a kind of enchanter in time” (npr story).

Frank Stewart, Romare Bearden in his Long Island City Studio with a photograph of his paternal great-grandparents, c. 1980

Romare Bearden, The Family, c. 1941

Romare Bearden, Tomorrow I May Be Far Away, 1966/1967

When you are truly inspired by another artist it is not enough to just look at it or talk about it, you need to create a work of art for yourself. To me that is the biggest form of inspiration – work that inspires more work.

What artists have been influential in your life?

{images from here}

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