Romare Bearden in the Brooklyn Museum Collection I think the artist has to be something like a whale, swimming with his mouth wide open absorbing everything until he has what he really needs.
The Brooklyn Museum is proud to display these works from its collection by the renowned African American artist Romare Bearden, in conjunction with the Bearden Homecoming Celebration taking place throughout New York City this fall and winter.
Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1911. In 1915, his family moved to New York City, where in the 1930s he attended New York University, studied art with George Grosz at the Art Students League, and joined artists’ groups associated with the Harlem Renaissance. While maintaining his strong connection with New York, Bearden frequently returned to his grandparents’ house in North Carolina for the summer, and memories of the South were to inspire many of his works.
Music, too, played an important role in his art. Several members of his immediate family were excellent musicians and encouraged his early interest in music. He especially loved jazz, and sometimes participated in performances. His method as a visual artist was based in part on what he had learned from jazz musicians about improvisation. As in jazz, the unpredictable repetitions and juxtapositions of shapes, textures, and colors in his art create startling, unexpected visual rhythms. The free spontaneity is, however, controlled by Bearden’s keen vision, striving to shape his personal experiences into forms accessible to all.
Bearden’s signature use of collage—cutting and gluing painted or colored paper, photographs, clippings, and fabric onto a firm support to make a picture—enabled him to create complex visual compositions within essentially flat space. Although indebted to modernist movements, notably Cubism, which had invented the medium of collage, Bearden differed from them in using this technique to tell stories. He relied on collage almost exclusively after 1963, when he and several other Harlem artists established a group called Spiral to respond to the urgency of the Civil Rights movement.
Bearden’s rich and vivid body of work attracted increasing public attention during the later years of his career. By the time of his death, in 1988, he had long been recognized as among the most significant artists of his era.
Curator and Chair
Department of Contemporary Art