Romare Bearden (Part Two: Collage, Ex. 2.1)

Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden (1911-1988) was a versatile American artist, exploring many different media. Painting, printmaking and collage, caricature, set design, writing and songwriting were all part of his work.

Bearden grew up in Harlem, and his family home “became a meeting place for Harlem Renaissance luminaries” ¹, including writers, painters and Jazz musicians. He also was a social worker in New York City, even after he achieved artistic success². These influences can be seen in his collages, as many portray daily life in Harlem, or Jazz club scenes:

Empress of the Blues

1974 acrylic and pencil on paper and printed paper on paperboard 36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase in part through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment 1996.71 Not currently on view

As said, “his works depict aspects of family culture in a semiabstract (sic) collage and Cubist style³. Spring Way is a good example of this, with its contrast of dark realism seen in the black and white street photos, versus the pops of brightly colored shapes:

Spring Way

1964 collage on paperboard sheet and image: 6 5/8 x 9 3/8 in. (16.8 x 23.8 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Bequest of Henry Ward Ranger through the National Academy of Design 1999.9 Not currently on view


The Block is one of Beaden’s most famous works, currently residing, though not on view, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. I can’t reproduce the image here, due to licensing restrictions, but the Met has an inter-active site, Let’s Walk the Block,  that allows for close examination of the whole work.

It is a fascinating, beautiful piece, from 1971, a large collage, on six panels, measuring 4×18′. Each panel shows a different aspect of city life, as Bearden saw it from a friend’s window, though he moved away from a literal interpretation, to a more imaginative one (

I find the range of street life represented fascinating. At the beginning, there are families and well-dressed people outside a neighborhood liquor store, while upstairs you see children in a room with a mousetrap for a window shade. The third panel depicts a funeral, complete with angels helping the soul to heaven. More religious imagery can be seen in the fourth panel, where an angel is blessing an unborn child, contrasting the primary colors and simple shapes of the next building.

There is an ironic touch of having a church in the fourth panel, while homeless people are being frowned upon in front of the next building. The windows above the barber shop contain slightly disturbing images, perhaps representing the darker side of the city, and conveyed by Bearden’s use of muddier colors and less crisp lines. The use of different panels disrupts the flow of the scene, perhaps to add the chaotic feel of city life.

Bearden was a strong voice for African-American artists and culture, as well as being an incredibly diverse artist, though I chose to focus only on his collages. I found his life very interesting and his work fascinating and inspiring.


Corlett, M.L. (2009) From Process to Print: Graphic Works by Romare Bearden. New York: Romare Bearden Foundation/ California: Pomegranite Communications

Romare Bearden. [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 07 Oct 2014].

Romare Bearden Foundation. [Internet]. The Bearden Foundation. Available from: [Accessed 07 Oct 2014].

Let’s Walk the Block. [Internet]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available from:  [Accessed 07 Oct 2014].

Spring Way. [Internet]. Available from: [Accessed 07 Oct 2014].

The Art of Romare Bearden. [Internet]. National Gallery of Art. Available from: [Accessed 07 Oct 2014].

Romare Howard Bearden. [Internet]. 2014. The website. Available from: [Accessed 07 Oct 2014].

Robert Rauschenberg (Part Two: Collage, Ex 2.1)

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was an American artist whose works, using traditional and found materials, forged a path for the pop-art movement of the ’60s (Lancher, 2009).

Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Rauschenberg studied at Kansas City Art Institute, then at Academie Julien Paris. In 1948, he attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he studied under Josef Albers, and befriended fellow artist Jasper Johns (Tompkins, 2005).

The works I find most interesting are from the mid-1950s, when Rauschenberg began using non-traditional items in works he called ‘combines’ (Tompkins, 2005).

Bed (1955)

Combine: oil and pencil on pillow, quilt, and sheet, mounted on wood support 75 1/4 x 31 1/2 x 8 inches (191.1 x 80 x 20.3 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York Gift of Leo Castelli in honor of Alfred H. Barr Jr.

While Rauschenberg himself claimed to worry people would “want to crawl in it” (Lancher, 2009, p.14), the work is actually very violent. The pillow and sheets have agitated pencil marks, with  bold, splattered oil paint dripping down the quilt. It leaves me feeling unsettled, as though something horrific occurred.

Bantam (1955)

Combine: oil, paper, printed reproductions, cardboard, fabric, and graphite on canvas 11 5/8 x 14 5/8 inches (29.5 x 37.1 cm) The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles

The contrast between the NY Yankees across the bottom of the work and the feminine references on the top half are divided by cardboard. The photo of Judy Garland is covered by sheer white gauze, and the reclining woman, by red gauze (a reference to the fact that she’s posing nude?). The slashes of yellow and red paint drips to combine or link the masculine and feminine images.

Rebus (1955)

Combine: oil, synthetic polymer paint, pencil, crayon, pastel, cut-and-pasted printed and painted papers, including a drawing by Cy Twombly, and fabric on canvas mounted and stapled to fabric Three panels: 96 x 131 1/8 x 1 3/4 inches (243.8 x 333.1 x 4.4 cm) overall The Museum of Modern Art, New York Partial and promised gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder and purchase

This is perhaps my favorite work of those I’ve seen. The division between the three panels form vertical lines, while the image forms a horizontal line, enforced and supported by a shelf-like row of small colored squares. Near each end are photos of runners. Are they in the same race, and do the pictures and colors in between represent obstacles they must over come? It reminds me of graffiti on a city wall, with the bold, dripping colors and partial printed papers. “THAT REPRE” in the upper left is intriguing. That represents? Represses?

I chose Rauschenberg to research because his works fascinates me and he had such an impact on modern art, but also because he’s a fellow Texan. He was a very prolific and diverse artist: a painter, sculpture, printer, as well as his combines using photography, print and found objects. It’s very difficult to assess art in books and online. I look forward to our NYC visit in October, when I can go to MOMA and see some of Rauschenberg’s works in person.

ETA 9/28/17: Be sure to check out the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit!


Lancher, C. (2009) Robert Rauschenberg. New York: The Museum of Modern Art
Tompkins, C. (2005) Off the wall. New York: Picador