Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Romare Bearden by Shom Tiwari

One of my favorite ways to spend a crisp summer evening in Charlotte is to go Uptown to the Romare Bearden Park. The juxtaposition between the park’s soothing sounds of water flowing and the busy city center’s bright lights on towering skyscrapers epitomizes the city’s character. The old and the new, the fast and the slow, the natural and the artificial are all integral parts of this city. However, as evidenced by the recent violence in Charlotte, centuries-old tensions still plague the city. I find art to be an interesting tool of analysis for understanding sociopolitical conflicts. I chose Bearden because his work explores such issues and life in the South in general. While we began our lives more than 80 years apart, we were both born in a Charlotte where issues of race and class leave profound implications on society.

Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte in September of 1911 before his family moved to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance. During his childhood, and for the rest of his life, Bearden interacted with intellectuals, artists and jazz musicians.  Despite moving up North at a young age, Bearden still spent many summers with family in Charlotte where Jim Crow Laws were hard to ignore. These varying influences come together in Bearden’s works, which were primarily oriented around Black American Culture.

           Bearden’s artistic career went through several different periods. First, his works reflected the Social Realism movement. Influenced by Diego Rivera, Bearden’s paintings in this period featured working class African-Americans with underlying social and political messages. In “Factory Workers” (1942), we see three African-Americans leaving a factory with billowing clouds of smoke above it. The three stoic faces next to the rocks carry a powerful message on the dehumanization of black laborers. Both the faces and rocks are very defined in their structure. The darker tones in the sky and the painting as a whole epitomize the gloomy conditions that these men face day after day. By placing the men between a brick wall in the foreground and the factory in the background, the viewer feels trapped with the African-Americans who are mostly stuck at the bottom of the social structure. Powerless and exhausted, the men show little to no emotions in their faces.

"Factory Works"(http://www.beardenfoundation.org/artlife/beardensart/oils/artwork/factory_workers_i.html)

              Next, Bearden painted more religious subjects utilizing post-Cubist techniques. In “He Walks on Water” (1945), Jesus Christ is composed of various geometric shapes and straddles the line between too abstract and too realistic. The water and the boat are formed with simple lines yet Christ is a complicated subject divided in color. Again, the subjects Bearden depicts carry an emotionless face.

"He Walks on Water"

              Bearden’s third key phase as a painter was of abstract expressionism. In “Blue Lady” (1955), no clear lines divide the subject from her surroundings as the blueness of her body bleeds into the air. The lines used in this work serve to define the form of the figure, not her beginnings and endings. This fluidity and haziness in a blue tones connects the viewer to female African-American blues singers. Again, no facial expressions are discernible in Bearden’s work.
"Blue Lady"

Works Cited:
Bearden, Romare, and Myron Schwartzman. Romare Bearden: His Life & Art. New York: Abrams, 1990. Print.

"Bearden, Romare Howard." Benezit Dictionary of ArtistsOxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 5 Oct.
 2016. <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/benezit/B00014414>.

Bearden, Romare, Ruth Fine, and Mary Lee. Corlett. The Art of Romare Bearden. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2003. Print.

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