December 9, 2022


Adorn your Feelings

Exhibition at Frye Art Museum will change the way you think about Romare Bearden’s works

4 min read


Exhibition review

Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is beloved for his big-scale collages that testify to the day-to-day activities of Black Us citizens. They are vivid, advanced and required functions of artwork that are prepared about in artwork historical past books, prized in artwork collections and instantly recognizable as Beardens.  

A traveling exhibition of Bearden’s summary paintings, now demonstrating at the Frye Artwork Museum — the past prevent on a countrywide tour — will alter the way you imagine about those legendary collages. 

Are there collages in the clearly show? Indeed. There are some great examples of his signature, figurative collages these types of as “La Primavera” from 1967. Dependent on the route you just take, these massive, gorgeous functions both finish a chronological wander-by way of or welcome you with an introduction to his finest-regarded do the job. 

And — spoiler! — there are quite a few nonfigurative collages that he established in the earlier ten years of summary painting that is the focus of this present. These collaged paintings from the 1950s and early ‘60s straight contradict the oft-explained to tale that Bearden only turned to collage in 1963 when he made the decision to characteristic Black figures and tales. 

In “River Mist” from all over 1962, for instance, Bearden lower and tore his canvas and remounted it on a painted board to produce a raggedly flowing composition of mottled blue and delicate white, with glimpses of glowing orange. 

These summary paintings are both radically distinct from his later collages and comprehensive of foreshadowing, holding hints of Bearden’s compositional virtuosity and content experimentation. This exhibition sets out to show a level and it does so brilliantly: These paintings have been basically important to Bearden’s advancement as a collage artist.

From the mid-1950s to 1963, Bearden embraced nonfigurative painting, discovering various arrangements of coloration, texture and painterly methods. This is a display to see in individual, to analyze the brushed, dripped, stained and scumbled surfaces. 

The dreamy, marblelike surfaces of 1961’s “Heart of Autumn” exhibit proof of paint soaking into the canvas, splattered and dabbed across it, and softly brushed on to create bursts of designs. New strategies to the age-old medium of paint ended up celebrated for the duration of this time when abstract expressionism reigned. But appear even closer and you will see pencil marks the place Bearden plotted out and emphasised his compositions. Even in the midst of all this seemingly spontaneous abstraction, Bearden was thoughtfully placing the pieces collectively. 

The exhibition is full of revelations and insight. But this is not an extremely simplified, clickbaity tale of recovering extended-misplaced paintings for the world to see for the to start with time. Bearden really exhibited and offered rather a several of them in the 1950s and ‘60s. 

So, if Bearden was acquiring good results with these paintings, why did he abandon them in 1963? 

Keenly interested in the civil legal rights debates that were being thundering throughout the country, Bearden was critical of the tendency to stereotype and generalize the encounters of African Us citizens. Alongside with his mate William Baldwin, Bearden felt that the specificity and individuality of the numerous lives of Black men and women must be acknowledged. For Bearden, the language of abstraction couldn’t say what wanted to be explained. 

A museum wall panel rates Bearden as expressing, “I did the new operate out of a response and will need to redefine the graphic of man in the expression of the Negro expertise I know finest. I felt that the Negro was getting to be way too substantially of an abstraction, instead than the reality that artwork can give a subject matter.”

And so Bearden turned toward recognizable figures and stories, employing collage to build scenes drawn from his have and others’ ordeals. But the lessons he uncovered through his 10 years of painterly experimentation are apparent in these collages. While there are in depth allusions to areas and tales, there is an over-all, formally abstract technique to the way the backgrounds and figures are assembled from simplified shapes and excerpted supplies. In truth, Bearden recycled some of his older performs, reducing up painted or photocopied paper to use as foundational elements. 

What he tried to do, he stated, was to “establish a world by means of art” in which the validity of his African American working experience “could live and make its individual logic.” Bearden’s previous exploration of material, procedure and composition led to this logic, a program for setting up sort and story that validated and celebrated lifestyle.

“Romare Bearden: Abstraction”

Through Sept. 18 Frye Artwork Museum, 704 Terry Ave. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays free of charge 206-622-9250,


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