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The Art of Romanre Bearden.

by Ruth E. Fine (essays by Sarah Kennel, Nnamdi Elleh Jacqueline Francis, and Abdul Goler) Abrams/ National Gallery of Art September 2003, $50.00, ISBN 0-810-94640-8

A mammoth publication in breadth and depth, covering multiple decades of artistic production, The Art of Romance Bearden, which coincides with a touring exhibit, captures the complexity and scope of one of America's leading 20th-century artists.

Romare Bearden (1911-1988) adopted a range of influences from jazz to popular religion and ritual, from ancient history to modern life. His creative expression is found in such diverse mediums as wood sculpture and costume, painting and collage, photography and watercolors.

From his childhood in Mecklenburg Country, North Carolina, and in Harlem, where he spent his formative years, Bearden immersed himself in the sights and sounds of the African American experience. This comprehensive catalogue includes such early works as The Visitation (1941), displayed in gouache with ink on graphite and brown paper, employing Christian iconography; patchwork quiltlike collages such as Expulsion From Paradise (1964) and The Prevalence of Ritual series exemplify the layering of meanings mad metaphors in Bearden's work. Three Folk Musicians (1967), Watching the Good Trains Go By (1964) and The Blues (1974) identify Bearden's interest in Southern life, migration and the music of jazz and blues.

An editorial cartoonist and war veteran, Bearden graduated from New York University with a degree in education. He painted on weekends and evenings, taking classes from German artist George Grosz at the Arts Students League. He had his first solo exhibition in Harlem in 1940, and by the end of the decade his work was exhibited in Paris. His collages appeared on the covers of Fortune and Time magazines in 1968. He helped found such venerable institutions as the Cinque Gallery, The Studio Museum in Harlem and Spiral, an artist activist collective.

The 352-page exhibition catalogue includes 200 color and 100 black-and-white illustrations. Ruth E. Fine, National Gallery of Art curator and exhibition organizer, provides an overview on Bearden's life and artwork. An essay by Sarah Kennel, curatorial assistant at the National Gallery, situates Bearden's influence in old master Western art. Professors of architecture and art history and Afro-American studies Nnamdi Elleh and Jacqueline Francis provide insight on Bearden's sources in African art and personal writings.

--Donna Thompson Ray is director of He New Media Education programs the Center for Media and Learn at the City University of New York.
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Author:Ray, Donna Thompson
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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