An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden

Mary Schmidt Campbell. Oxford Univ, $34.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-19-505909-0
Campbell, president of Spelman College and author of Artistic Citizenship, presents a dynamic portrait of Romare Bearden (1911–1988), focusing on his evolution as an artist. “He celebrated the continuity of his past, the traditions and ceremonies of black culture and connected its rituals to the rituals of other cultures,” Campbell writes. She chronicles his career from his early days as a young painter inspired by the murals of Mexican painter Diego Rivera in Harlem in the 1930s to his time creating Picasso-inspired collages during the civil rights movement. Campbell details the broad dimensions of Bearden’s rich life, including his stints as a songwriter, a social worker, and his circle of friends and frequent collaborators, who include choreographer Alvin Ailey and authors Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray. She also offers perceptive analysis of his artwork, as when she notes the elements of “Dan and Benin artifacts, Japanese portraiture, Persian Khatam-karis, [and] classical Chinese paintings” present in The Block (1971). Bearden once wrote, “The Negro artist must come to think of himself not primarily as a Negro artist, but as an artist,” and Campbell perfectly encapsulates that notion in this analysis of Bearden’s remarkable career. Color photos. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/18/2018
Release date: 09/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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