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Romare Howard Bearden (American, 1911-1988)


Also known as:  Bearden, Romare; Bearden, Rommie; Bearden, Romy

Birth Place: Charlotte (Mecklenburg county, North Carolina, United States)

Romare Bearden (September 2, 1911 – March 12, 1988) is a prominent figure in the history of American art. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and growing up in New York City, he dedicated his life not only to creating art that celebrated the African-American life, but he was a a highly esteemed humanist, who largely believed in connecting art with social reality. In addition, Bearden supported young artists throughout his life and used his voice to encourage people across all cultures to engage in the creation of art.

A wide range of intellectual and scholarly interests occupied his life and creative career, including music, performing arts, history, literature and world art. Bearden started college at Lincoln University, transferred to Boston University, and finally finished his studies and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from New York University. During his years in college, he had several journal covers published, as well as articles written on social and artistic issues. Later, in the year 1968, two of his collages were published on the covers of Time and Fortune magazines.

Bearden was primarily a painter during the first few decades of his career, but he distinguished himself and found his voice as an artist during the politically volatile 1960s. By using cut and torn photographs from magazines, he reorganized the images and created collages of strong visual statements on the African-American life. Bearden’s richly textured collaged created a unique way of reflecting the experience of the black American, which enabled his artwork to combine into American modernism, which was mainly white at the time.

Bearden did social work with the New York City Department of Social Services from the 1930s to the mid-1960s, using his nights and weekends to create art. He gained notable recognition as an artist with his first solo shows in Harlem in 1940 and Washington, D.C. in 1944. The majority of his subject matter included African-American religion and spirituality (including that of ‘conjure’ women), jazz and blues musicians, Harlem and its urban environment, traveling trains, and the rural south.

He was strongly influenced by the high modernists of the era, including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, but Bearden’s collages additionally stemmed from African-American slave crafts and quilt making, where they used whatever materials were available out of necessity to make art. The influence and spread of this artistic style helped break the divide between popular and fine arts.

Many of his close friends included important artists and cultural figures, such as Stuart Davis, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Joan Miró, and Alvin Ailey.

Bearden's work is held in several important public collections throughout the world, and there have been retrospectives of his work both during his life and posthumously. He received many awards and honors throughout his life, including the Mayor's Award of Honor for Art and Culture in New York City in 1984 and the National Medal of Arts in 1987, presented by President Ronald Reagan.

To foster the education and training of talented art students, the artist founded The Romare Bearden Foundation.

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