Romare told the story of his childhood through his art. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1911, he was the only child of New York City intellectuals who were deeply involved in the Harlem renaissance of the 1920’s. Bearden spent long stretches of his boyhood and youth in the rural South and industrial Pittsburgh, and later in Harlem where his father would sometimes play piano duets with the likes of Fats Waller. His early acquaintances ranged from ironworkers and Storyville pimps to such heroes of black culture as Duke Ellington, W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes. These experiences gave the young artist an abiding love of actuality and pictorial anecdote that abstract art could not possibly satisfy.
Bearden’s long and prolific career carried him through various artistic approaches ranging from cubistic figurative works of the 1940’s, the lyrical abstractionist works of the mid-1950s, to his signature collages born in the 1960’s. His work is universal in that it incorporates techniques from West African sculpture, Chinese painting and Dutch genre scenes. However, by integrating these diverse traditions with Jazz, southern baptisms, urban rituals, mythic folklore and other aspects of black American life, he created a visual language that specifically expresses an African American identity. Bearden did not learn to reconcile historical tradition and personal content with the modernist forms and techniques until the mid-sixties. It was then that he came to realize the strength of his southern memories and the importance of the Harlem culture of his youth. They were the sources upon which he based his art. Transforming specific, often humble incidents into universal themes, he began to classicize and give lasting aesthetic identity to unique and vital aspects of the American experience, and in so doing he made a place for himself in the history of art.
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