Black History Month, day 12

Romare Bearden, image by Roy DeCarava, (c) Sherry Turner DeCarava 2012, courtesy The DeCarava Archives.

Yesterday I alluded to the music and art of the Harlem Renaissance as well as the poetry. I first encountered the art of Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden when I took a collage class in high school, and when I set up this blog, his was one of the names on my blogroll of artists. He had an amazing gift for texture and color, as well as the juxtaposition that is built in to collage (his most frequent medium), and used them to tell stories, evoke the sound of music, portray a place or people . . . His pieces are complex, accessible, rich in allusions, and both emotional and philosophical.

In Early Morning, for example: the woman’s arms both fit with the rest of her and set up a contrast that speaks of other places, maybe the places where her thoughts are now. The arms are languid, flat like a Matisse collage; they contrast with her tired face, which is portrayed more realistically and itself has a contrast between the Madonna gaze of the eyes and the determined set of the jaw. Her head scarf, apron, and dress speak of the kitchen, while her arms suggest a more romantic setting where she might be dancing, sleeping, or making love. And still, that right arm is not only part of her, but part of the background–of the wall, in fact.  As if she is there and not there, as one might be at a moment when duty calls one way and longing another and especially here in early morning, when one’s mind is still half in the night’s dreams. All of that from one figure, and a background figure at that. This is why I feel the way August Wilson does about the effect of Romare Bearden’s pieces: “I was looking at myself in ways I hadn’t thought of before and have never ceased to think of since.”

Only in writing this post did I learn that Bearden’s centennial is being celebrated right now, between September 2011 and September 2012. If you’re near Cincinnati, Tampa, or New York, check out one of the exhibits in honor of this anniversary; looks like others are in the works. Folks in my part of the world, you can see his mural “Berkeley: The City and its People” anytime by popping into the chambers of the Berkeley City Council.

The above is my favorite picture of Bearden. I love the way the photographer, Roy DeCarava  (another terrific African-American artist), made the photo look like a collage too.