An American Odyssey The Life and Times of Romare Bearden

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2018-09-03
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
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Here is the first major book on one of the most important and yet underappreciated artists of the twentieth century, which his life practically spanned. By the time of Bearden's death in 1988, he was most celebrated for his large-scale public murals and collages, which were reproduced in Time and Esquire to express the "black experience in America." As Mary Schmidt Campbell shows us in this definitive, defining, and utterly immersive portrait of Bearden, both the man and the artist, the relationship between art and race was central to his life--a constant, driving, and unresolved creative tension. Bearden was born in North Carolina but his mother, a prominent journalist, brought him to Harlem during the heyday of the Renaissance, and there he met most of its major figures, including Ralph Ellison. W.E.B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey. Interested in social commentary, Bearden started as a cartoonist during his college years but in the later 1930s turned to painting and became part of a community of black artists supported by the WPA. After World War II, Bearden began to represent more fully his heritage, becoming what Campbell calls a "race man," creating social realist canvases of African-American life. He became one of a handful of black artists to exhibit in a private gallery--the commercial outlet that would form the core of the American art world's post-war marketplace.

But in the later 1940s and 50s, Bearden rejected the then-dominant Abstract Expressionism, embracing instead the classical tradition of representation. After he suffered a nervous breakdown, Bearden returned to New York, turning to painting just as the civil rights movement was gaining ground. By the time of the March on Washington in 1963, Bearden had begun to experiment with the Projections, as he called his major collages, in which he tried to capture the full spectrum of the struggles of African Americans, both the day-to-day way in which life is lived and the broader vision and aspirations.

Campbell's book offers an American epic, a narrative of Bearden's life along with illuminating appreciation and analysis of his work and career. Campbell, who met Bearden in the 1970s, was one of the first to compile a catalogue of his works. An American Odyssey goes far beyond that, offering a living portrait of an artist and the impact he made upon the world he sought to recreate.

Author Biography

Mary Schmidt Campbell is dean emerita of Tisch School of the Arts and University Professor in the Department of Art and Public Policy.

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