“Romare Bearden: Pictures of America” Showcases Work by Modernist Master

ROANOKE, Va. (Jan. 20, 2017) — The Taubman Museum of Art is pleased to present a spotlight focus on the artistic output of Romare Bearden (American, 1911-1988), one of America’s most well known Modernist artists, with the exhibition Romare Bearden: Pictures of America. The exhibition is on view Jan. 28-June 18, 2017, and is free and open to the public.

Tying loans to a work in the Taubman Museum of Art’s permanent collection, Pictures of America highlights Bearden’s complex and colorful art. Rooted in the history of western, African and Asian art, as well as in literature and music, Bearden found his primary motifs in his personal experiences in the life of his community.

Born in Charlotte, N.C., to a middle class African American family, he moved as a toddler to Harlem in New York City, participating with his parents in the Great Migration of African Americans in 1914 to states both north and west. The Bearden home became a meeting place for Harlem Renaissance luminaries including writer Langston Hughes, painter Aaron Douglas and musician Duke Ellington, all of whom undoubtedly stimulated the young artist’s imagination.

Bearden maintained a lifelong interest in science and mathematics, but his formal education was mainly in art, at Boston University and New York University, from which he graduated in 1935 with a degree in education. He also studied at New York’s Art Students League with the German immigrant painter George Grosz, who reinforced Bearden’s interest in art as a conveyor of humanistic and political concerns.

During a career lasting almost half a century, Bearden produced approximately 2,000 works. Best known for his collages, he also created paintings, drawings, monotypes, and edition prints; murals for public spaces, record album jackets, magazine and book illustrations; and costume and set designs for theater and ballet.

Pictures of America highlights Bearden’s collages, etchings, lithographs and monoprints.

His life experiences in North Carolina, Pittsburgh and New York City were instrumental in developing imagery in his work. His art celebrated and shared stories relevant to African Americans, which he integrated into the greater (predominantly white) American Modernism art movement. Culling snippets from black magazines such as Ebony and Jet, Bearden inserted the African-American experience – its rich musical production, along with its contemporary racial strife and triumphs – into his art.

In describing his artistic influences, Bearden once commented, “The artist has to be something like a whale swimming with his mouth wide open, absorbing everything until he has what he really needs.” Similar in appearance to a patchwork quilt, Bearden’s densely layered works presented topics from slavery such as in The Train to the history of industrialization in a city which occupied an important place in his heart and art, as seen in the mural maquette Pittsburgh Recollections. His Jazz Series was inspired by his 14 years of having his studio over the historically important Apollo Theatre in Harlem where countless African American musicians played. Bearden designed covers for such jazz luminaries as Charlie Parker, Donald Byrd and Wynton Marsalis.

In addition to his art, Bearden was active as a social worker for the New York City Department of Social Services for more than 30 years, a writer, a teacher, and advocate along with other artists for African Americans during the Civil Rights Moment. He received numerous honors and awards during his lifetime such as the Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture in New York City in 1984 and, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan awarded Bearden The National Medal of the Arts. His work is in numerous permanent collections including the Brooklyn Museum, the Mint Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One of the most vibrant and revolutionary artists of the 20th century, Bearden’s legacy as a visual artist and a champion for equal rights still has influence today. His mixing and sampling of images culled from popular culture sources to literature created works that blended history and memories during a pivotal time in our nation’s genesis.

Romare Bearden: Pictures of America is curated by Amy Moorefield, deputy director of exhibitions and collections, and is on view in the Bank of America/Dominion Resources Gallery at the Taubman Museum of Art, 110 Salem Ave. SE in downtown Roanoke.

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