One of the things I admire most about Romare Bearden’s work is the way he tells a story using a lively interplay of art materials. Consider “Conjunction,” a collage he created in 1971, and one of four artworks featured on a set of stamps issued in 2011. The scene is drawn from Bearden’s memories of growing up in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He uses the collage medium to tell us two important things about the culture of his childhood. The subject of the collage is the significance of community and sharing; the “conjunction” of people when they greet one another and come together for conversation. In this collage, Bearden worked with charcoal and crayon—traditional art materials—and fabric remnants.
He builds form and gives shape to the figures with these vibrantly colored swatches of fabric, alluding directly to the quilting tradition practiced by his family and neighbors. It’s the juxtaposition of varied color and patterns in the cloth that enlivens the composition. There’s enough going on in Bearden’s collages to keep the eye active and interested. In fact, when looking at his art, I’m in awe of the way he pulls together common materials such as fabric, foil, and cardboard—things I’d just as easily toss in a wastebasket—to create vivid tableaux telling stories of human interaction and complex emotion.
Through March 11, 2012, you can see works by Romare Bearden in New York City at the Studio Museum in Harlem. “The Bearden Project” is a tribute exhibition organized to coincide with the artist’s centennial year. For more information, visit the Studio Museum’s web site.
Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
Photograph © Frank Stewart/Black Light Productions