The complex and colorful art of Romare Bearden (1911-1988) is autobiographical and metaphorical. Rooted in the history of western, African, and Asian art, as well as in literature and music, Bearden found his primary motifs in personal experiences and the life of his community. Born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Bearden moved as a toddler to New York City, participating with his parents in the Great Migration of African Americans to states both north and west. The Bearden home became a meeting place for Harlem Renaissance luminaries including writer Langston Hughes, painter Aaron Douglas, and musician Duke Ellington, all of whom undoubtedly would have stimulated the young artist’s imagination.
Bearden maintained a lifelong interest in science and mathematics, but his formal education was mainly in art, at Boston University and New York University, from which he graduated in 1935 with a degree in education. He also studied at New York’s Art Students League with the German immigrant painter George Grosz, who reinforced Bearden’s interest in art as a conveyor of humanistic and political concerns. In the mid-1930s Bearden published dozens of political cartoons in journals and newspapers, including the Baltimore based Afro-American, but by the end of the decade he had shifted the emphasis of his work to painting.
During a career lasting almost half a century Bearden produced approximately two thousand works. Best known for his collages, he also completed paintings, drawings, monotypes, and edition prints; murals for public spaces, record album jackets, magazine and book illustrations, and costume and set designs for theater and ballet.