Romare Bearden

Extraordinary Collage Artist

I led a collage workshop at the Newark Museum Sunday, August 5, 2012. It was titled Conjur Woman: Portrait in Collage.

The workshop was organized in conjunction with the exhibition at the Museum (on view through August 19, 2012) titled Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections that travelled from the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The exhibition celebrates the life and work of Romare Bearden (African-American, 1911-1988) and the centennial of Bearden’s birth. The exhibition includes 80 works in collage, printmaking, and painting.

The Workshop

10 talented people participated in the workshop. They had all seen the exhibition and many wanted to take the workshop because they were so inspired by the art they saw.  See images of their work and read their comments below.

Romare Bearden is considered one of the greatest collage artists in modern history.

Romare Bearden, Conjur Woman

I spoke briefly about his Conjur Woman imagery and some of the materials Bearden used. I showed a reproduction of the image above.

It’s titled Conjur Woman (1975) and is a collage of various papers with paint, ink and surface abrasion on wood, 46×36, in the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio.

I brought decorative and hand-made papers for everyone to share. As soon as they saw the papers, they wanted to start making collage. I told them all of the amazing papers were purchased at NY Central Art Supply in NYC.

I brought handouts about Romare Bearden and his Conjur Woman image. I said he had three artist strategies:  he worked with photographic and photomechanical reproductions; he selectively appropriated canonical images from Western painting; and he reworked the images to represent 20th century African-American subjects and identity.

I said Bearden’s imagery is about visual juxtaposition, and it’s important to notice how he mixed fragments to create a whole new image. I said: notice the eyes and the size of the hands. Notice how he incorporated images of African masks.

I brought handouts about the history of collage, and told them collage began in the Far East in the 12th century, and the first known collages are from Japan. Picasso and Braque are credited with the invention of modern collage (1912-1914). Read more…

Many people brought their own photos, reproductions and collage materials to the workshop.

I brought magazines (Vogue, Vanity Fair, Oprah, W, and ArtForum) and everyone shared.

I did a quick demonstration on how to tear papers and cut images from magazines. For example – if the image is part of a page in a magazine:  cut or tear out the whole page, then cut around the image and make the paper smaller and easier to handle, then cut precisely around the image.  It sounds like it’s an extra step and takes longer. It’s actually almost as fast, and easier. I also showed how to tear with a ruler. You can move the ruler as you tear against it, and use the ruler to create a shape or curve.

I showed how to get a white edge on torn paper by tearing the paper toward you.

I showed how to use a brush dipped in water to create a wet line when you are working with hand-made paper (the line can be straight or curved). You can hand-tear against the wet line, and create a soft edge. Some people really liked the soft, furry edge.

Everyone began to locate images in magazines to add to their other papers. I handed out the substrate (Bristol medium weight paper) for the bottom layer. Some people brought their own substrate.

I asked everyone to start their collage with a background layer of solid grey and colored papers that I brought.  I talked about how Bearden used geometric shapes in horizontal and vertical designs.

I did a quick glue demonstration – please read about my process for gluing and getting papers to lie flat without bubbles and glue outside the edges.

I always say it’s important to work with the right glue and the right weight paper. I brought white PVA (polyvinyl acrylic) glue.

I discussed how it is difficult to work with thin magazine papers and how they curl when you apply glue. I always recommend photocopying the papers to make them medium weight so they are easier to handle.

The workshop started at 10:00 am and continued through 4:00 pm. Everyone wanted to work through lunch. Only a few took a lunch break.

Bearden’s Hands 

I took pictures of people at work that showed their hands. At the beginning of the workshop I spoke about how important hands were in Bearden’s art.

Romare Bearden

The above image by Bearden is titled Of the Blues: Carolina Shout (1974). It’s collage and acrylic and lacquer on board, 27×51 inches, Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina.

The image below is Abena Busia at the workshop organizing papers for her collage. The image of the hand became an important element in her work.

Abena Busia placing papers for collage

 Pictures of Pictures

About an hour before the workshop ended, people walked around to look at what others were doing. I took digital images with my cell phone and others took pictures also.

After the workshop, I emailed everyone and asked people to write a few sentences about the theme of the collage they made. I am still receiving their comments, so not all are included here.

The image and comments below are by Pam Wright.

Pam Wright

“My piece (titled Protection, Direction) was inspired by Bearden’s “Southern Collections” themes. It was a reflection of the experience of family life in the African-American community. The role of the conjure woman both past and present was one of protection and direction. It included pictures of my family as well as those of the past. It incorporated themes such as rural life, farming, cotton, poverty and migration. Pattern and movement were accomplished by the use of textured papers torn and cut, postcards, burlap and paint.” (Pam Wright)

The image and comments below are by Abena Busia.

Abena Busia

She emailed the image (above) the day after the workshop and wrote: “I was determined to finish, and when I found the right hand, I found I could.” She calls the piece Conjuring Mama. It is  a memorial to her beloved mother.

The image below shows Carol Masi at work on her collage.

Carol Masi at work on her collage

 She wrote: “The theme of my collage is based on spiritual images. I was drawn into the Saints when I visited the Byzantine Museum in Nicosia, Cyprus. I have been inspired by them ever since. I was so moved by the Bearden exhibit. It inspired me to take the workshop which I thoroughly enjoyed.” (Carol Masi)

The image below and comments are by Martha Wagner.

Martha Wagner

She wrote: “With this collage (titled Conjur Woman), I strictly decided to reproduce Bearden’s style by using only photos of women with skewed body parts that didn’t match, with the underlying picture of a woman’s face. Eyes of an animal, a hand not belonging to a woman, etc. is the way I made this artwork. I also used cloth pieces for clothing for one of the women and for a hand holding a pen. (Martha Wagner)

The image below and comments are by Gail Mitchell.

Gail Mitchell

She wrote: “The title of my collage is Teenager’s Dream Come True. It is a reflection of my art life: 3 of my quilts, photos of me taken by my boyfriend (currently my husband of 44 years of marriage), my love of beads, embellishments, inks and stamps and being BLACK & PROUD and celebrating my life!” (Gail Mitchell)

The comments below and image are by Mansa Mussa.

Mansa Mussa

Mansa Mussa wrote: “The singer is Andromeda Turre, singer, songwriter, model, fashionista, beauty… I took that photo of her performing at a South Orange, N.J. jazz performance this summer. I met her a couple of weeks before when she performed at the Newark Museum’s Jazz in the Garden festival with her mother, cellist Akua Dixon.

The narrative of this Conjour Woman is that she’s a siren who uses her voice on-stage to entice the male musicians to perform at the highest level. Her cohorts are his sisters who dance on her belt and on her skirt, creating a fantastic aural and visual spectacle that compels the musicians to focus…She is backed on saxophone, the musical instrument most like the human voice, by another one of her sisters. This figures is the musical director of the ensemble and the only female musician.

The figure at the top right is her younger sister, studying the elder, and waiting for her moment on the stage.” (Mansa Mussa)

More Information about Romare Bearden

The Newark Museum held a symposium on July 16, 2012 with guest speakers, all experts on the life and art of Romare Bearden. I purchased the exhibition catalog and an excellent book of essays titled: Romare Bearden in the Modernist Tradition (2008, Romare Bearden Foundation, New York).

I recommend the book for those who want to learn more about the artist. The essays are excellent.

Visit the Bearden Foundation for images and more information about the artist and upcoming programs and exhibitions.

Read about Bearden’s  life at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery website.

 Please add your comments.

7 thoughts on “Romare Bearden

    1. I am still getting images and comments about work by people in the workshop. I will post a 2nd blog and add more images.

  1. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I do think that you need to publish more on this subject matter,
    it may not be a taboo subject but usually people don’t speak about these
    issues. To the next! All the best!!

    1. Thank you for reading the post and your comments. The art of Romare Bearden never goes out of style. It appeals to almost everyone because the content and images are universal and timeless. I’m doing another Conjur Woman workshop in NY in March and will do another post (maybe will do a post in response to your comment). Best, Nancy

  2. Greetings from Idaho! I’m bored to tears
    at work so I decided to check out your site on my iphone during lunch break.
    I love the info you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
    I’m surprised at how fast your blog loaded on my mobile ..
    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, awesome blog!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog about Romare Bearden’s Conjur Woman workshop I led. Thanks for the compliments.

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