Romare Bearden was an artist, teacher, musician, printmaker, and an influential member of the Harlem, New York art scene. Collage is what Bearden is best known for today; he felt it was a form of improvisation, and that it mirrored the fragmented cultural and life experiences of African Americans. He studied artists and styles from Europe, Africa, and Asia, and used this as inspiration. His rule-breaking art is fresh and inspiring today.
Born in Charlotte, North Carolina to Howard and Bessye Bearden, the family moved to New York when he was a young child. There he grew up in a household where some of the most influential African American notables of that time would drop by. He spent some of his high school years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, living with his grandparents in their boarding house. There he heard stories from people who were migrating from the South, hoping to find a better life. After graduating, he studied at Lincoln University, then Boston University, and received a degree in education from New York University (NYU), while creating cartoons, being art editor, and writing articles for student publications. He studied with the Art Student League before he enlisted in the U.S. army during World War II, he spent much of his service in Europe. He returned to Paris to study at the Sorbonne after the war.
Bearden worked as a social worker in NYC until he was able to support himself as an artist, and he brought humanity to his personal, professional, and artistic lives. His first solo exhibit was in Washington, D.C. in 1944 and he was widely exhibited during his lifetime. He was the first art director of the Harlem Cultural Council, and was involved with the founding of many other influential organizations, bringing a spotlight to the African American community and history, and to young artists. He was friends with many artists and intellectuals such as Jacob Lawrence, George Grosz, Alvin Ailey, and Langston Hughes.
New York City’s Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture in 1984, and the National Medal of Arts in 1987 were just two of the many awards and degrees that this great American artist received in his lifetime.