In his current show at Jenkins Johnson, Bearden proved that he was more than the master of collage. The exhibition features a wide range of his oeuvre - collages, watercolors, and prints from the 1970s and 1980s, a mural maquettes, an Olympic poster, and a book jacket for a collection of poems by African writers.
Familiar collages of New York city landscapes are followed by his lyrical and semi-abstract watercolors, originally commissioned for the opening titles of the 1980 film Gloria. His approach to collage, as seen in this exhibition, was improvisational, intuitive, and inventive, not unlike the creative process of jazz and blues that tends to evolve somewhat spontaneously. Bearden considered his collages to be paintings and once said of them that “any reproduction will suit my purpose, because, like the ancient makers of mosaics, I’m really drawing and painting with…paper.”
His monotypes of jazz musicians are "jazzy, with colors moving across the page in a loose and free form manner. His lush tropical landscapes from his wife's native Martinique and St. Martin, his wife Nanette’s ancestral home speak to the humble but culturally rich lives of fishermen and farmers and ladies in the market, Obeah rituals and the joyous chaos of Carnival.
In "Odyssey," Bearden leaves the familiar world of the streets of New York for the world of myth. The images are bold, set in a simplified, stylized landscape reminiscent of Stuart Davis and Matisse. Odysseus' struggle is seen as parallel to the struggle of the African-American, sailing on dangerous seas in an epic battle to reach home - a home where they have dignity, protection under law and freedom.
Romare Bearden: Storyteller’s collages, watercolors, and prints from late in the artist’s life showcase the artist’s command over innovative techniques and approaches to exploring modernity, humanity, and the African American experience in the places where he lived and worked.
Romare Bearden: Storyteller runs through June 21st at Jenkins Johnson Gallery.