Romare Bearden (born September 2) was an American artist and writer who depicted African-American life. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden moved to New York City at a young age. Recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the twentieth century, Romare Bearden had a prolific and distinguished career. He experimented with many different mediums and artistic styles, but is best known for his richly textured collages, which are my favorite of his collections. Snippets from magazine photographs, painted papers, foil, posters, and art reproductions were among his materials. Bearden’s collages fractured space and form, leading one writer to describe them as “patchwork cubism.”
Romare Bearden was somewhat of a Renaissance man. An innovative artist with diverse interests, he also designed costumes and sets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, created book illustration, comics, album art, and public murals. Bearden was the author/coauthor of several books, and was a songwriter who co-wrote the jazz classic "Sea Breeze", which was recorded by Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie. Jazz and the blues provided Bearden with many subjects. He grew up hearing rural blues and uptown jazz: Duke Ellington’s orchestra, Earl Hines’ piano, Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing. For sixteen years, his studio was above the Apollo Theater, still a Harlem musical landmark.
Bearden studied with a Chinese calligrapher, whom he credits with introducing him to new ideas about space and composition in painting. He also spent a lot of time studying famous European paintings he admired, particularly the work of artists such as Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Rembrandt. He also revered African art such as sculpture, mask and textiles.
Bearden became a founding member of the Harlem-based art group known as The Spiral, formed to discuss the responsiblities of the African-American artist in the struggle for civil rights. Critical of special or separate treatment he was nevertheless aware of their limited opportunities and made important commitments to leveling the playing field for black artists. His lifelong support of young, emerging artists led him and his wife to create the Bearden Foundation to support young or emerging artists and scholars. In 1987, Bearden was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Bearden died in New York City on March 12, 1988 at the age of 76. In the obituary for him, the New York Times called Bearden "one of America's pre-eminent artists" and "the nation's foremost collagist."