Romare Bearden, a renowned African-American artist (1911-1988), was honored with an exhibit of his Black Odyssey collection at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University. Bearden, who was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and reared in both Harlem, NY and Pittsburgh, PA.
After graduating from the Peabody High School in Pittsburgh, he attended Lincoln University and Boston University before graduating from NYU. At NYU he began to focus more on his art education, contributing as an art editor and a lead cartoonist to the Medley, a monthly journal founded by the Eucleian Society.
After college, he joined the Arts Students League and studied under the German artist, George Grosz; while also working as a political cartoonist for various African American newspapers. He began his career with depictions of scenes from the American South, following the style of American muralists Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. He grew to explore other themes, techniques and mediums throughout his career including abstract art, cubism, collagism etc. Throughout his career, Bearden maintained a connection to Harlem with an art studio above the Apollo Theater and began art collectives with other black artists including the Pillar.
One of Bearden's most famous works are his now iconic series based on Homer's Odyssey. Created in 1977, Bearden completed a cycle of 20 collages and watercolors called "The Odysseus Series" which was inspired by The Odyssey, Homer's epic poem. The Odysseus Series blends classical mythology and African American culture. First shown in New York City in the late 1970s, the entire collection was displayed for two months before being sold to private collectors and public art museums.
The Black Odyssey Exhibit is actually part of a traveling Smithsonian exhibit with its final destination at the Wallach Gallery. When I visited the exhibit with my mother, we were enthralled with the intricacy and vibrancy of the works. Bearden reimagines scenes from Homer's epic poem and combines it with the Black Experience. Most are colorful collages, some of watercolor, which are neatly constructed along in the same way that Matisse worked.
It was truly amazing and breathtaking to experience this art collection up close. We were awed and inspired by Bearden's use of color---shades of midnight and vibrant pinks, blues, violets and oranges---he managed so well.
Quotes from Bearden were placed in a large font and plastered to the walls throughout the gallery space. One such quote was:
After I left the exhibit, I purchased a copy of the book, The Art of Romare Bearden, for my personal library. I would love to own an original by Bearden, but I could settle for a print.
As always I am inspired by the art that surrounds me.
Until next time,