cover image ROMARE BEARDEN: Collage of Memories

ROMARE BEARDEN: Collage of Memories

Jan Greenberg, . . Abrams, $17.95 (52pp) ISBN 978-0-8109-4589-0

From the first spread, Greenberg (without frequent collaborator Sandra Jordan) draws readers into a dynamic portrait of African-American painter and collage artist Romare Bearden. "Painted paper scissored into shapes. Scraps of fabric. Hands cut from a photograph," the book begins; in a kind of textual collage, blocks of words appear on bold patches of solid color that echo the checkered floor in the artist's Early Carolina Morning, 1978, featured on the spread. The often poetic narrative reinforces the inviting artwork: "Step inside Bearden's world, where jazz, rhythm, and blues meet a kaleidoscope of shimmering, shimmying colors." Greenberg discusses the importance of Bearden's North Carolina childhood to his later work (emphasized by compositions such as Dinner Before the Revival Meeting, 1978), and intersperses photographs that demonstrate how young Romie's light skin posed challenges in a segregated South. A brilliantly designed spread for The Street, 1964, shows off the myriad tones between black and white in an homage to his beloved Harlem. Bearden's mother, a renowned Harlem newspaper editor and activist, introduced him to the likes of Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington, and his brush with Harlem Renaissance royalty shows up in paintings such as Show Time, 1974. Some of the gems come off as almost parenthetical: a childhood friend who influenced his artistic approach (eulogized in Farewell Eugene, 1978) and a brief flirtation with abstract expressionism (e.g., Mountains of the Moon, 1956). This intelligent volume provides a way into the artwork for youngest readers (and includes enough engrossing details to keep their interest) and new and interesting nuggets for more experienced art lovers and fans of African-American history and culture. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)