The images are lively, fierce, and colorful-each work a
patchwork of emotion and vitality that characterizes the life of
the man who created them: Romare Bearden, the celebrated
African-American artist, whose work is currently on exhibit at the
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Bearden’s southern roots and New York City upbringing ring
throughout the 140 collages, photomontages, watercolors, and
monotypes included in the rich show.
Born in Charlotte, NC in 1911, Bearden moved with his parents to
New York City in 1915, where his mother was a political activist.
He was attended N.Y.U. and became an educator, while maintaining
his interest in art. Bearden studied with noted German artist
George Grosz, who encouraged him to incorporate social and
political themes into his art.
Characterized by intense color and vibrant images reminiscent of
cubism, Bearden’s works are drawn from social, ritual, regional and
literary themes. Each one is a world unto itself. His collages, for
which he has become most well known, utilize many textures and
colors of fabric, paper and photographs, which, as the artist
himself said, “forge a variety into one.” In addition, he uses
abrasion and superimposition to provide additional texture. As a
result, his works seem to have not only a visual text, but
illustrate sound and movement as well.
Several works are two sided, free-standing and translucent, with
light providing the balance and connection between the two sides.
The famous work commissioned by the Legal Defense Fund of the
NAACP, is an example of this technique. One side (recto) is a rich,
deep portrait, entitled “Woman and Child Reading.” The other side
(versa) is an untitled abstract. When viewed from either direction,
the sides fuse to become a third collage.
Bearden found great significance in the beauty of black women,
beautifully and respectfully represented in almost every work in
Bearden’s series of collages using the Odyssey as a theme were
particularly well received by viewers, second only to their
positive reaction to his works focused on jazz. These collages such
as “Train Whistle Blues” evoke the powerful musical atmosphere of
both the rural south and Harlem, where Bearden lived and was
acquainted with musicians such as Duke Ellington. The vitality and
excitement of the time in which Bearden lived is well illustrated
in the works on display. The richness, variety, and texture seem a
metaphor for the wide experience of the artist’s life.
Bearden was a renaissance man, an artist, educator, author,
musician, and benefactor, who encouraged other African-American
artists by founding the Cinque Gallery in 1969 to provide
exhibition space for young painters.
The Bearden show is an excellent way of commemorating black
History Month while learning about a prolific and influential
The optional audio tour is narrated by actor Delroy Lindo and
features the music of Winton Marsalis. It provides the perfect
atmosphere for viewing this exhibit, which runs through May 16,