Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden (09/02/1912-03/12/1988) was born in North Carolina.  While he was very young, his parents moved  to New York City.   The family lived in Harlem where, by the early 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance was developing.  The Bearden family's apartment became a meeting place for Harlem intellectuals and jazz musicians.  Thus, at an early age Bearden became immersed in politics and music. Bearden, although interested in art, did not consider an artistic career when he attended New York University.  He worked as a cartoonist for the university's humor magazine and also did drawings for the Baltimore Afro-American, Colliers, and the Saturday Evening Post. In 1935 Bearden decided to become a full-time artist after meeting a group of African American artists who later became the Harlem Artists Guild.  He decided to paint part-time. In 1938 Bearden became a Case Worker for the New York City Department of Social Services.  In 1940 he participated in his first one man exhibition at the studio of Ad Bates and met Stuart Davis, who inspired Bearden to visualize the relationships between jazz and art.   In 1942 one of his paintings was reproduced in Fortune magazine.  Bearden continued exhibiting his work in group and one man shows.  Between 1942 and 1945 he served in the United States Army in the 372nd Infantry Division. Bearden abandoned painting for a few years to concentrate on song writing.  He wrote "Sea Breeze" with Larry Douglas and Fred Norman in 1955:  it was recorded by Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Pettiford, and Billy Eckstine.  The "Spiral Group" was formed at Bearden's studio in 1963. Bearden became the Art Director of the Harlem Cultural Council in 1964.  He left his position at the New York City Department of Social Services in 1966 to become a full time artist. Romare Bearden experimented with various media and styles, including photomontage.  In the 1950s and 1960s Bearden tried working in an Abstract Expressionist style, but felt it lacked a philosophy.  He subsequently began experimenting with a technique in which he would paint broad areas of color on various thicknesses of rice paper and then glue these papers onto canvas.  Bearden would then tear sections of the paper away until a motif emerged. He began refining his collage/painting technique.  His subject matter emphasized images and scenes of African American life.  During the 1970s, the motifs of jazz and blues reappeared.  By the late 1970s he began to use more vibrant colors inspired by trips to the West Indies. In addition to being an artist, Romare Bearden was active as a writer, teacher and curator.  He received many honors and awards during his life.  He received the North Carolina Medal of The State.  On June 18, 1987, President Ronald Reagan awarded Bearden The National Medal of the Arts. His work is in numerous permanent collections including the Brooklyn Museum, the Mint Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Other works by: Romare Bearden