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Romare Bearden: Enchanter in Time

October 29, 2005 February 5, 2006


(above: Romare Bearden, The Baptism, 1976, screenprint on paper, H. 38 x W. 48 inches, Courtesy of Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)


The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown is proud to present Romare Bearden: Enchanter in Time, an exhibition of works on paper by one of America's great artistic innovators. This exhibition of Bearden's works on paper will be on view in the Wachovia Gallery from October 29, 2005 through February 5, 2006.

Romare Bearden (1911-1988) filled his work with the symbols and myths of the American black experience. Bearden worked in a variety of media, but was best known for the collages in which he fused elements of past and present; fragments of his boyhood in Harlem; vivid images of the American South; along with historical, literary and musical references to create rich, multi-layered works that both reflect and transcend his era. (right: Romare Bearden, Before the First Whistle, ca. 1972, lithograph on paper, H. 15.75 x W. 11.825 inches, Courtesy of Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

To create his collages, Bearden blended painting, magazine clippings, old paper and fabric, like a jigsaw puzzle in upheaval. But unlike a puzzle, each piece of a Bearden collage has a meaning and history all its own. Shortly before he died of cancer in 1988, Bearden said working with fragments of the past brought them into the now.

"When I conjure these memories, they are of the present to me," he explained. "Because after all, the artist is a kind of enchanter in time."

While Bearden's art offers an invaluable insight into mid-twentieth-century African American experience, Curator Ruth Fine of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, argues that "it has also come to occupy a significant place in the wider history of American art and speaks to the universal concerns of artists everywhere."

Bearden was born in North Carolina, and as a young man moved with his family to New York City's Harlem where he came of age during the Harlem Renaissance, surrounded by writers, artists, and musicians in a time of extraordinary creative ferment. Bearden's mother was a reporter for a leading black newspaper, and the family's circle of friends included luminaries such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, and Paul Robeson. The Harlem of his youth was very much influenced by the mass migration of blacks moving north from the rural South, which may have contributed to his many-layered memories and visions of home.

Bearden drew from many diverse sources and influences in creating his work -- from European masters to African Art, history and literature, religious subjects and ritual practices, jazz and the blues, along with the landscapes and atmospheres of the places he lived -- including Pittsburgh, New York City, the rural South and the Caribbean island of St. Martin. From a young age Bearden developed a passion for jazz -- a form whose rhythms and intervals seems to have influenced his visual art work. His practice of employing repeated motifs, often with slight variations, echoes the 'call and response' aspect of jazz. (left: Romare Bearden, The Family, 1975, etching and aquatint on paper, H. 22.25 x W. 29.875 inches, Courtesy of Jerald Melberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

"In evolving his methods and form, collages by Picasso, Georges Braques, and Juan Gris made their mark on Bearden's imagination," writes Fine in The Art of Romare Bearden. The resulting vision was deeply original, imaginative and complex.

In addition to the collages, Bearden produced watercolors, gouaches and oils, and in the 1960s he created a number of 'Projections' (or photostats), in which he used photographic techniques to enlarge some of his smaller collages. These works received considerable acclaim for their visual daring and nearly cinematic impact. Throughout his career Bearden also made forays into abstraction, usually with musical associations.

The exhibition Romare Bearden: Enchanter in Time consists of some 38 works on paper, spanning religious themes (Salome and Noah, The Third Day) historical references (Prologue to Troy and Slave Ship) and musical tributes (Introduction for a Blues Queen and Bopping at Birdland), among other subjects.

Bearden's work is included in many important public collections, and he was recently honored with a nationally touring exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. He was also a noted writer and intellectual who authored several books on African American art and artists. He died in 1988.

The exhibition was organized by the Jerald Melberg Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina. (right: Romare Bearden, Two Women, 1981-82, Screenprint on paper, 23 x 14 1/2 inches, Courtesy of Jerald Melberg Gallery © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)

In conjuction with this exhibition, there will be a lecture presented by Jerald Melberg, entitled "Romare Bearden Remembered," on Sunday, December 11, from 3 to 4 pm. Fee.


Editor's note: readers may also enjoy:

African American Art
Artist Romare Bearden drew on his interests in religious ritual and classic literature to create beyond what the camera could capture in his depictions of urban African-American life in the 20th century. Jeffrey Brown reviews the artistic achievements of Bearden, which are celebrated in an exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. This 8-minute audio clip is from a 1988 NewsHour with Jim Lehrer segment. Another 10-minute NewsHour segment includes a 1986 Charlayne Hunter-Gault interview with Romare Bearden.
Romare Bearden Papers Online

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Romare Bearden: Visual Jazz Reveals the work of American artist Romare Bearden (1914--1988) as he creates a collage and describes his approach: first, creating abstract relations of form and color, then adding specific imagery to produce feeling. Musician Wynton Marsalis compares the way Bearden translated experience to the jazz musician's technique of improvisation. Although Bearden loved music, there were many other influences on his art which showed a combination of rural and urban experiences and which employed many different styles. 28-minute L&S video. Available through the Sullivan Video Library at The Speed Art Museum which holds a sizable collection of art-related videos available to educators at no charge.

Griots of Imagery: A Comment on the Art of Romare Bearden and Charles White. A presentation on the art of two Afro-American artists who are true African keepers of history and culture or "griots", based on the 1993 exhibition of Romare Bearden and Charles White. Bearden's art is based on his reflections concerning what he called "the prevalence of ritual" in African-American life. White's art reflects his concern with the struggle of Black Americans to transcend the vissicitudes of American life. c1993. 28 min. Video/C 5271 Available from Media Resources Center, Library, University of California, Berkeley.

TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of VHS videos and DVDs listed in TFAO's Videos -DVD/VHS, an authoritative guide to videos in VHS and DVD format

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rev. 12/27/07

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