Romare Bearden has been called the nation's foremost collagist, and the many varied influences drawn from his life experiences and collective cultural histories in creating his imagery are perhaps a key to this grand status. Born in North Carolina in 1911 and growing up in Harlem in New York City, his work is marked by portrayals of the unity and cooperation felt within his African-American communities.
A broad range of intellectual pursuits influenced his process, leading to what feels like a deep, multi-layered visual conversation noting a certain humanism, with inspiration being tapped from music, performing arts, history, literature, social work and studies of world art including the Western masters, Mexican art, African art, Byzantine mosaics and Chinese landscapes, intermingling with symbols and myths from the Black American narrative.
In his stone lithograph printmaking, he employs a prolific labor-intensive affair with what looks like often 8 or 9 or more colors, involving a new pass for each new color, expertly controlled alignment or registration, and the forethought of how the colors will overlap to create space, dynamism and complex layered forms, the whole of which translates into profound complex emotions and atmosphere. He accomplishes a rich storytelling element that makes an impact all at once, his simplified cubist shapes carrying a deep and tangible otherworldly character.
Romare Bearden, The Conversation, 1979, Signed Lithograph
A signed stone lithograph from 1979 titled The Conversation is an elegant description of this. On close inspection, the carefully combined colors and textures in the plants and the clothing lend a glimmering friction — and the softness of the way the forms bump up against one another supports the intimate feeling shown by the figures.
Romare Bearden, Girl in Garden, 1979, Signed Lithograph
In another 1979 signed stone lithograph, Girl in Garden, his subjects have an almost weightless quality, drawing your attention to gesture and posture, and using color to describe space — while again layering multiple tones in and out of defined shapes which lead one through the elements as though enveloped in a dream.
Romare Bearden, School Bell Time, 1994, Serigraph
And a piece titled School Bell Time is a certified silkscreen reproduction by the Bearden Foundation showing a highly interesting combination of inks of varying lustrous shine, calling attention to the beautiful patterns and bold confidence of assembled form.
Bearden’s work resonates and ripples out in sonorous layers, heartfelt, enigmatic and rooted in a rich history.