Romare Bearden

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Romare Bearden was a renowned and notable American painter, whose work has featured some of the most iconic and thought-provoking aspects of the lives of African American people. Indeed, Bearden ranks, not only amongst the most influential African American artists of the 20th century, but also, was one of the most important artists to have influenced the development of the style of Cubism.

Romare Bearden was born on September 2, 1911, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Soon after, his family moved to New York City, and Romare grew up in NYC and later, Pittsburgh. In 1936, Romare began attending the Art Students League in New York City, and later, in 1943, he enrolled himself at the Columbia University. Some of his early paintings from this time, such as the ‘The Annunciation’ reflect an inclination towards realism and religious subjects. With the advent of the WWII, Romare had to discontinue his studies and join the military.

With the end of the war, in 1950, Romare decided to move to Paris, where he enrolled himself at the Sorbonne, and began conducting extensive travels throughout Europe. He began to develop an interest in the semiabstract collage style, and his work began to revolve around the simple yet cherished subjects of family, music and rituals. Bearden was not just a painter, he was also a songwriter and a book illustrator. He was often recruited by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company for designing stage sets.

Bearden’s work began garnering attention in the late 1940s, and with the advent of the 1960s, Romare was firmly established as the most commercially successful and influential collagist in the United States. His work largely focused on aspects of the American south, and promoted harmony, unity and co-operation within the African-American community. In 1966, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Romare established a Harlem-based organisation that was set up to assist and help the African-American artists in their struggle for recognition, known as The Spiral.

Romare has also written and co-authored several books, along with a jazz classic song ‘Sea Breeze’, which has been sung by Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie. He along with his wife, are the founders of the Bearden Foundation, an organisation that is dedicated to support emerging artists or scholars in their struggle. In 1972, Romare was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1978, he was elected as an associate member at the National Academy of Design.

In 1987, a year before his death, Bearden was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Some of his most iconic an highly acclaimed works include, ‘The Dove’, ‘Falling Star’, ‘Fisherman’, ‘Jammin’ at the Savoy’, ‘The Lantern’, ‘Last of the Blue Devils’, ‘Morning of the Rooster’, ‘Patchwork Quilt’, ‘Piano Lesson’, ‘Return of the Prodigal Son, ‘Rocket to the Moon’, ‘She-Ba’, ‘Showtime’, ‘Summertime’, ‘The Woodshed’, ‘Wrapping it up at the Lafayette’ and ‘The Family’ among others.

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