Romare Bearden, Alto Composite, 1974. Collage with acrylic and lacquer, 50 1/2 x 44 1/2 in. Private collection.
African-American artist Romare Bearden(1912-1988) is primarily known for the colorful and varied representations of jazz and blues in his paintings. Bearden was also a prominent influence on the playwright August Wilson, whose own work reflected a strong affinity with the blues and jazz tradition. When asked why his focus centered on jazz music, Bearden responded:
It is not my aim to paint about the Negro in America in terms of propaganda . . . [but] the life of my people as I know it, passionately and dispassionately as Breughel. My intention is to reveal through pictorial complexities the life I know.Bearden, like his contemporaries Stuart Davis and Piet Mondrian, felt that, like jazz, painting uses improvisation as a key ingredient in the creative process. In his painting, Bearden sought connections: ". . . the space between the notes and how they connect and flow into one."
In the above work Alto Composite, Bearden presents the jazz musician as both solitary and heroic. The collage medium of the work suggests the fragmented nature of the black artist- one who sees himself as an individual and one who is "seen" by a mainly white audience. This struggle reflects W.E.B. DuBois's concept of the "double consciousness"- "this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others."
Cassidy, Donna M. "Seeing" Musically: The Meanings of Music in 20th Century American Art." Reynolda House, Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. May 4-July 30, 2000. 21.
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