Artist's Biography - Romare Bearden
( 1911 - 1988 )
Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but much of his childhood was spent in Harlem, New York. His father was very active in the New York arts scene, and Bearden remembered having artists and musicians in the family home all the time, a presence that carried over into his own adult lifestyle. When he began to live on his own, it was his apartment that became the gathering place for artists and musicians. Bearden became a huge jazz and blues fanatic through this lifelong exposure, and he constantly incorporated his love of music into his art.
Bearden received his formal education at Columbia University in New York, where he earned a bachelor of science degree--in mathematics. Although he studied philosophy and art history at the Sorbonne in Paris, Bearden never had a formal education in art making, but this did not stop him from following his heart and pursuing something that he truly loved to do. Early on in Bearden's art career he met Stuart Davis, another successful painter of the time. Davis was also strongly influenced by jazz, and he showed Bearden how to visualize relationships between painting and jazz, which may not initially seem to share many similarities.
Bearden, through associations with other artists such as Davis as well as his own self-study, developed a strong link between the two disciplines. For example, jazz and painting can be "hot" or "cool." Both require great order and integrity. Both have improvisation as a key ingredient in the creative process. In his painting, Bearden sought connections: ". . . the space between the notes and how they connect and flow into one." And as in many great jazz works, Bearden refused to "close" his painting--he left the painting open to interpretation and manipulation by the viewer. %FDAnother strong presence in many of Bearden's works is trains. Bearden felt that there was a commonality, or link between trains and their symbolic tie to life; he saw trains as communicating life's fluctuations and constant change. He also saw this in jazz, so in many of his works the viewer will see images of both trains and jazz.
Bearden's use of color was also unique. He was strongly affected by a trip he made to the Caribbean. Because he lived in such urban, "dirty" cities as New York, Bearden was overwhelmed by the rich, vivid, "clean" colors of the tropics. He soaked in these colors, and used them in his works to try and bring a little of that experience to his viewers back home in the city.
Through all of Bearden's wide oeuvre, and all of his motivations for painting in a certain style, it all comes back to the same quote: "My intention is to reveal through pictorial complexities the life I know." Bearden succeeded in revealing those complexities, made possible by his knowledge of his own life experiences.
Bearden was highly praised critically, but this high praise was never matched by a high price for his work. Bearden never considered himself a black artist, either, although many wanted to pigeonhole him as such.
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