Caribbean Fantasy Island Collage

The image on the left is a collage and watercolor painting by Romare Bearden (1911-1988), titled Purple Eden (1987). It’s 10.5 x 13 inches and is owned by a private collector. Photo by Carlos Lippai. Bearden lived and worked in St. Martin half the hear and created lush landscape paintings in paint and paper like this one.

Have you been to the Caribbean? It’s a tropical paradise with incredible natural beauty, lush plants, exotic birds, fish and wildlife that enchants everyone.

If you can’t be in the Caribbean, you can transport yourself there through art.

Make the memory as a collage, and every time you look at what you created you recreate the experience of being there.

Let tropical images  inspire you.

Turn your Caribbean experience or your dream of the perfect vacation paradise into an original work of art – inspired by the art of Romare Bearden (African-American, 1911-1988), one of the greatest of all modern collage artists. His paintings, prints and collages are in museum collections all over the world. You can make a collage with found images in paper and paint. It’s even better than a digital photo, because it’s handmade by you, and can include sketches, souvenirs and photos.

The image at left shows Romare Bearden in 1983 at his home in St. Martin. If this photo was reproduced in color instead of black and white we’d see the lush landscape in the background  (Photo by Manu Sassonian).

In the Caribbean, Bearden  discovered a love for watercolor, and began to create works in watercolor and collage.

Collage Has History

I love collage media and love to promote the art of collage. It’s the most contemporary and democratic art form. Collage has history. You can make great collage with the simplest materials and the most basic tools. Collage is user-friendly. It’s accessible. If you’re a beginner you can make collage and make progress. If you’re a painter you can explore with collage and work in mixed media. Photographers who work with collage make photocollage. Digital artists who play in layers make digital collage. Printmakers can make collagraphs. 3D collage artists make assemblage.

Romare Bearden called his collages paintings.

I teach a workshop titled Caribbean Fantasy Island. It’s landscape collage where we analyze Bearden’s landscapes and talk about his approach to composition, design, color and black and white. We discuss the media he used and his love of all available technology. We discuss the ways he developed the picture surface: how he overlapped papers and textures to create interest and space, and how he worked with dazzling watercolor paints. I am inspired by Bearden’s art.

In their book Romare Bearden: The Caribbean Dimension (PENN, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA), Sally Price and Richard Price wrote:

“For Bearden, the Caribbean was a kaleidoscope of colors that danced to the sounds of island life…His days began with the bravura of the rooster’s cock-a-doodle-do…His visual collage began with daylight when ”clouds become saffron, then vermillion and then many shades of red, especially a deep cardinal red.”

The painting at left is by Romare Bearden, titled Birds in Paradise (1982). It’s watercolor and collage, 29 x 20 inches, and in a private collection. Photo courtesy of Jerald Mellberg Gallery, Charlotte, NC.

Notice the riot of color. Color is such an important part of Bearden’s Caribbean landscapes.

You can create a riot of color too! At my workshops everyone paints papers in acrylic and watercolor like Bearden. I demonstrate painting papers at the beginning of every workshop. It’s a joyful process and people find the results so satisfying.

What about the papers you use for collage? When Romare Bearden was alive, his choice of papers was tiny in comparison to today. His collage media included just a few magazines, newspapers, his drawings, paintings and recycled prints. But he was amazing and inventive and as technologically savy for his time as anyone is today. He enlarged and reproduced his small collages into large black and white photostats and created bold, dramatic, graphic images. He incorporated his black and white photostat images with his painted papers and flat Color Aid (silkscreened) paper into his collages and made everything much larger. When he worked with cut-outs from magazines, his collages were tiny. When he worked with painted papers and photostat enlarged images, his collages got big. When he supersized his collages as photostats, his work became a whole new media. He called these photostats Projections. They were a sensation immediately and launched his career as a preeminent collage artist!

If you love paper like I do, I recommend  NY Central Art Supply in NYC as an incredible resource for all your papers. They have papers from around the world. It’s worth the trip to see the selection, and then you can order online.

All my workshops include demonstration on different ways can you cut, tear and prepare papers and  a demonstration on how to glue down papers and what glues (and adhesives) to use. I say my life is about glue. I want all the papers to be secure and lie flat – if they are supposed to be flat – and if they’re not, I talk about how to secure them so they do what they’re supposed to do.

The image at left is by Romare Bearden, and is titled The Intimacy of Water (1973). It’s 32 x 15 inches, includes acrylic and photographic collage, and the flat stretches of black and deep blue color are collaged with large sheets of Color Aid paper. This work is included in the Saint Louise Art Museum.

I’m not sure it’s easy to find Color Aid papers, or if they are still available. I remember the sheets are large and very expensive. I just created matte color paper similar to Color Aid paper on my computer in PhotoShop. I printed it onto InkPress Fine Art Matte papers (8.5x 11 inches). The emulsion on the computer paper creates the matte surface and the same look as the Color Aid papers Bearden used. The difference is that the sheets of paper that Bearden used were about 20 inches wide and my printed paper is 8.5 inches wide (but definitely gorgeous).

The image above shows flat areas of blue and black colors in contrast to photo collage with naturalistic colors and textures. Bearden also made collage paintings with Color Aid papers in grey tones (middle values) because he wanted to control the balance of rich colors with mid-range greys.

My collage website Stuff that Sticks includes a new Caribbean Fantasy Island gallery with collages by workshop students, several images of Bearden’s Caribbean landscape paintings and also a sample of painted paper that was created at a workshop (as a background for the collage).

art teacher caribbean landscape collage

The image at left is by  an art teacher who attended my Caribbean Landscape workshop at the Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ. It’s 14 x 11 inches on Bristol paper, acrylic paint and collage (2009).

Read more about Romare Bearden with information on upcoming shows at the Bearden Foundation.

See a video and hear about “The Block” (a major collage by Bearden in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection in NY), narrated by Lisa Messenger, Associate Curator at the MMA.

My collage workshops, depending on venue, lasts for 4 or 6 hours.  (read about the times and locations for upcoming workshops). We provide glossy magazines, and color and black and white photocopies of a Bearden collage so you can cut out images of tropical birds and fish to use in your collage. Everyone has enough time to explore painting papers, enough time to find and organize collage images, to learn collage technique and to complete their collage.

2 wonderful books about Bearden’s life and work are:

The Art of Romare Bearden (exhibition: 2003-2004), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (Harry N. Abrams, publisher, New York). Softcover edition is available on line at Amazon.

The 2nd book is titled Romare Bearden The Caribbean Dimension, by Sally Price & Richard Price, 2006 (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA), also available online.

Thank you for reading this blog. There are probably a lot of people who love the art of Romare Bearden as much as I do. I hope to hear from you.

8 thoughts on “Caribbean Fantasy Island Collage

  1. Nikkal, Thank you for sharing more about this wonderful artist. I knew of Romare Bearden before, but viewing his work through your eyes was VERY enlightening. Well done!

    1. Hello Shaquita, Thank you for your comment. Do you make collage? Do you own collage art? Are you inspired by Romare Bearden’s images and colors? Do you visit his gallery in St. Martin?

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