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  • Writer's pictureEyob Mergia

The Art of Romare Bearden, and Finding his Home. Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is an American artist.

Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is an American artist. He is one of my most inspiring visual artists, author, and songwriter. He is known for his collage and photomontage compositions which he began creating in the mid-1960s. He experimented with many different mediums. He uses rich textured collages and he compares his process to that of jazz and blues composers. He is influenced by various cultures including Western European art, African masks, literature, mythology, politics, music, and the struggle of African American culture blended with universal concepts. He uses black figures to express the African American social struggle and to express humanity. Bearden pondered moral questions, what does it mean to be “modern”? “Black” or “American” ? What does it mean to be an “ artist” who am I? Where is home?

Bearden's early style was influenced by numerous sources. His early works show realistic images with strong African American figures in different themes. Most of his early oil painting has similarities with Paul Gauguin’s artwork because of the color and the style he uses before he moved to abstract collage. He experimented in finding himself between abstract and cubist styles for while. In the long run, he kept his figures but lost the proportion and the forms and started to take flatter presentation. In addition, he simplified the forms he had used by focusing only on the African American black subject mater in his collage. Bearden traveled to Paris and France for several months. He studied literature, philosophy, Buddhism, and spent many hours in museums. Not only that, he saw Henri Matisse’s, Pablo Picasso’s and George Braque’s collages. These three artists are known for there collage art and it seems like Bearden’s got some inspiration and influence from them.

The Art of Rhythm, the Rhythm of art shows strong similarities with Pablo Picasso’s and Henri Matisse’s works in regards to medium and the elements he uses, which are shape, texture, form, space, color and composition. He uses raw color but balances it though the use of his color value. Some of the figures are cut like a photograph and they are out of the composition but express the main point. Overall, influences between artists has significant advantage in finding one’s style in art. In the process of imitating other works along with applied creativity artists can find their own styles and explore their own visual language.

Looking closely, Bearden’s Painting shows multilayered technic in how he uses form, color and contrast to compose his work. Simply, the pianist’s face has more dimensions and details compared to the saxophonist flat arrangement. In Picasso’s art, The Three musician painted with limited oil paint and a brown color mix with collage, the figures look like they are set in the box or room purposely to create three-dimensional volume. The foreground and the table perspective created depth for the rest of the painting but most of the elements are flat like Bearden painting. Matisse’s collage is more colorful and flat compare to Bearden's and Picasso work; the most important thing from Matisse may be taking the idea and to transfer to design elements for stencil print rather than artworks in their own right. The similarities between each of these artist works are clear and visual. It seems like Bearden has connected with these great artists and came up his own idea by cutting images and combined flat shapes and color to create the illusion on three-dimensional space.

The doves 1964

Some of the people looking imprisoned, watching and being watched. They are also looking outside and expecting hope and optimism. The dove seems like It is watching the neighborhood. Most of these figures have half face, no pure identity, no harmony expect monochromatic relationship. They are historical evidence. Some of them are a part of the background. When we look at the work overall, he puts so much figures and energy to the right side of the work. Schematically, he puts the cat on the left to creating some balance because the left side has to be lighter to control the viewer’s eyes. The cat is also crossing from left to the right to bring them good luck metaphorically and that things are not stagnant and today the white cat can be seen as symbolic for some kind of success and liberation. Many African American artist, musicians, athlete and actors have crossed over to success and liberation. Also life has become better compared to 1960s because we can learn and express ourselves truly. Bearden uses black images to push blackness forward to show the culture of black people, which is playing cards, sitting on the steps and walking on the street. We have seen a scene in fragments with emphasis on combining different ideas from the African American life and this gives us a hope to find our personal life journey in his work. He captured the mood and the environment perfectly. Bearden challenges how simply Black culture in America can be constructed in art from out of ordinary scraps of paper to show the of culture black people.

In 1977, Romare Bearden created a series of collages and watercolors based on Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. It is a rich in symbolism and allegorical in content, Bearden’s Odyssey series created an artistic bridge between classical mythology and African American culture, also in part there is this double narrative of Homer.

Battle with Cicones’ was created in 1977 by Romare Bearden

He uses a remarkable watercolor technic and uses bold, bright, flat secondary raw color and outline drawings with classical themes. He uses machine painted colored paper like paint color sample papers and uses his collage creatively. He uses very little reproduced paper for Black Odyssey. For instance, he uses black color as much he can for all figures to bring forward the story about black people and their resilience, survival and heroisms. The narrative is that black people are enslaved, suffered and lost there identity and eventually are able to find their home. Bearden create this series relatively to Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey to show African Americans whose longings for home during slavery fires their imagination to this day, and that their story resonates with western literature and can also show universality humanity and value. He also made all of the Homeric gods, mortals, heroes, and villain’s black. This choice emphasizes that all viewers can relate to the central themes of the story themes of longing, struggle, and determination.

In 1945 Golgotha was exhibited as part of the series of eleven watercolors titled The Passion of Christ in Bearden's first major New York gallery show. Bearden takes his abstract representation mix with classical art and myth by experimenting flattened space and angular form in watercolor, based on the book of Matthew and Mark4;

This work has a feel of early cubism and stained glass color study composition. He added out strong outline and use gush watercolor technic to express the sense of Christ’s agony. He uses strong perspective to show Christ’s face. Bearden creates distinctive curve on the Christ’s hand. The painting shows above the sky as the perspective while waiting for his time to die. He didn’t use many color but the harmony is simple. The rest of the figures don’t have many details and no detailed physical structure because it wasn’t important for this kind of water color technics otherwise you would have to draw first before you start coloring. He drew general forms as an object not realistically presentation. He uses simple outline, it looks like a cartoon or an illustration concept. He didn’t spend many hours in this work but the emotions, and actions are expressed well. He mixed watercolor and dry Ink with out disturb the warm color. It is a reflection of Christian art theme interpreted as universal experience and symbol for believers, not only that, he brought this Christian concept in abstract to remind us what is to be true love and scarification what we believe in art.

V. Conclusion

In the end, Bearden found a way to construct his collage and express his feeling in a different concept. His works are connected with different ideas with double narrative character symbolically in myths and history. He talks about proclaiming victory and resilience character about black people. Victory for Bearden involves the persistence of the human will and creative spirit. He expanded his exploration of literary narratives and artistic genres by presenting his own personal reinterpretation and asking question, where is our home? He also found a way to communicant different culture by presenting humanity and universal concept. It helped us to see ourselves, we are part human and we are survivors, by doing this, he also finds his own home, and himself in his art.


Columbia University “Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey.” www.columbia.edu15,Nov 15, 2014 – 14, Mar 14, 2015,

Romare Bearden “Who Was Romare Bearden?” 15, OCT, 2020.

Frank, Priscilla “Romare Bearden’s ‘Black Odyssey’ Puts A Modern Harlem Twist On Classical Mythology.” 06, Dec, 2017.

Meredith, Malone “Spotlight Essay: Romare Bearden, Black Venus, 1968.” Feb 2007; updated 2016.

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