Cut + Paste: Romare Bearden @ Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, NY

American artist, Romare Bearden’s (b.1911) practice is complex and wide reaching. This exhibition at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is the first to focus exclusively on collage, the medium through which Bearden arrived at his later style. Created between 1964 and 1983, the 21 works in the exhibition exemplify Bearden’s exceptional talent for story-telling as well as his mastery of the medium’s fragmentation of form and space. Together, they reveal an innovative artist whose style is distinguishing by partial images, unexpected juxtapositions, harmonious collisions, and a dynamic modernist aesthetic that continues to inspire and challenge viewers today.

While Bearden’s early work consisted of figural paintings inspired by the social realism that dominated the 1930s, a trip to Paris in 1950 inspired him to move closer to abstraction. In the early 1960s, he turned to collage in an attempt to redefine the image of man in terms of black experience. Cutting and pasting photographs, paper, fabric, newspaper, and magazines. Bearden often added gouache, ink, pencil, and oil to his surfaces, creating compositions that focused on expansive themes. Bearden went some way to redefine the image of humanity not through the black experience but black experiences. That is to say, his representations of the rural and the urban, African, American and Caribbean explored a broad scope of histories, identities and multiple lives.

The works in this exhibition reflect the artist’s belief that art is made from other art. This idea is literally present in the act of collage-making-taking images, colours, and forms out of one context, altering them and juxtaposing them with other-pre-existing images, colours and forms to create something new. It is equally apparent in Bearden’s celebration of jazz and blues, the inspiration he draw from African art, and his passion for telling the stories and representing the cultures of ordinary black Americans. Included in the exhibition is The Fall of Troy (1977), from his series based on Homer’s Odyssey, a work that offers further evidence of Bearden’s dialogue with the canon of European art.

Romare Bearden Collage: A Centennial Celebration was on display at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York until May 21 2012.

Image: Romare Bearden (1911-1988)
Illusionists at 4 PM, 1967
mixed media collage on board
30″ x 40″, signed
Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY