Last weekend I visited the Studio Museum in Harlem to see the exhibition Bearden 100, a centennial tribute to the great 20th century artist Romare Bearden (1911-1988). What I saw was the 3rd and final installment of Bearden 100. It closes October 21, 2012.

I promised to write about the Bearden 100 exhibition in a previous blog about a Bearden workshop I lead on August 5, 2012 at the Newark Museum titled Conjur Woman: Portrait in Collage – inspired by the artist Romare Bearden.

The workshop was offered in conjunction with the exhibition Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections at the Newark Museum (closed August 19, 2012).

Romare Bearden, Conjur Woman, 1964

The image above is by Romare Bearden and titled Conjur Woman. It was completed in 1964. It’s only 9×7 inches, and was created with snippets from newspapers and magazines such as Ebony and the Saturday Evening Post.

Bearden turned his tiny collage into a huge black and white print (called a Photostat). The Newark Museum had small works and large prints on display. The large black and white Conjur Woman Photostat is in the collection of the Studio Museum.

Read more about the meaning of the Conjur Woman and more about my workshops.


Here’s a link to see images of the 22 works at the Museum. The link is from the Bearden Foundation.

I was drawn to several works.

One was a figure by Elia Alba titled Portrait of a Young Girl, 2012 (see the image below).

Elia Alba, Portrait of a Young Girl, 2012

It’s a 3D figure in a prayer-like pose.  She wrote: It wasn’t just Bearden’s collage, but his merging of cultural and artistic practices that left the strongest impression on me.

I really liked a collage by Noah Davis titled The Frogs (2011) seen below.

Noah Davis, The Frogs, 2011


It looks like collage with many magazine papers and fractured faces (it’s definitely inspired by Bearden media and technique).

I was drawn to a mixed media 3D work by Xenobia Bailey, titled Endless Love: Conjur Kit, 2012 (see below).

Xenobia Bailey, Endless Love: Conjure Kit

I love the fact that the artist named her work Conure Kit – maybe she is inspired by all the Conjur Women in Bearden’s oeuvre.

The artist wrote: I love the continuum that his (Bearden’s) collages have to African-American quilt-makers and musicians. Mr. Bearden constructs everything in his artwork as if he is patching together the idea of the New African in North America.


Visit the website for the Bearden 100 show. See works by Bearden and see works by artists in the 3 shows at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

See #66: Bearden, In the Garden 1974 (image below). It includes red striped fabric on a figure, and abraded painted papers.

Romare Bearden, In the Garden, 1974

The Bearden image was selected by Tanekeya Word, a visual artist living in NYC.

See her mixed media work (below) titled Pretty Dope-a-licious Cameo #11, acrylic paint, gouache, watercolor, acrylic ink, gold leaf, embroidery, floss, pastels, latex  paint on watercolor paper, 2012.

Tanekeya Word, Pretty Dope-a-licious Cameo #11

Willie Cole selected the collage by Bearden, #57 Gospel Song 1969 (below) It includes multiple pieces of abraded papers, a gray background, and shows what Bearden did to his media to create unique surface texture. It also shows how he used pieces of papers to create a sense of dimension, texture, and rhythm.

Romare Bearden, Gospel Song, 1969

Willie Cole, a Newark, NJ artist, said he selected this work because it sang to him when he saw it.

See his work tiled Sole to Sole (below). Cole works with found media and creates/constructs metaphor about race in prints, sculpture and other media.

Willie Cole, Sole to Sole

Cole describes himself: Today I am a Perceptual Engineer.  I create new ways of seeing old things. and by doing so  inspire new ways of thinking.  I’ve also been described as an Ecological Mechanic, a Sacred Clown, a Transformer, the hardest working man in Shoe Business, The Original Iron Man, formerly known as the Dog Man, and once known as Vincent Van Black.

Willie Cole is one of my favorite contemporary artists.

More BEARDEN 100

The Studio Museum plans to extend the Bearden Project. They say:

The site will be frequently updated with new participating artists, sharing their story of inspiration and will include a high-resolution image of their artwork. We hope you’ll share your own artwork, stories, and comments with us by email.

Read more…

Romare Bearden was involved in founding The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Cinque Gallery (initially funded by the Ford Foundation). Bearden and 2 other artists – Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow – established Cinque to support younger minority artists.

Bearden helped found the Black Academy of Arts and Letters in 1970. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972.

He is recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the 20th Century. He worked in many different media, including painting and printmaking, but is best known for his richly textured collages


2011-2012 included many, many museum and gallery exhibitions all across the US honoring the centennial birthday for Romare Bearden (African-American, 1911-1988).

See the Romare Bearden Foundation site for updates and information.

Read about The Bearden Project (August 16-Oct 21, 2012) now at the Studio Museum of Harlem (144 W 125 St., NY).

The Bearden Project shows work by 100 contemporary artists who have all been influenced by Bearden’s genius. Each artist was asked to create a work of art inspired by Bearden’s life and legacy.

Romare Bearden, SUMMERTIME, 1967

The image above, is titled Summertime (1967), collage on board, 56×44 inches, image courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, NY.

In the collage Summertime, Bearden employs the rectangular geometry of window and door frames in a way that explores inside and outside space. We are looking in. Who is looking out? Notice the face and eyes of the Dan mask set within the upper-right tenement window (and the eye seen behind the pink gingham curtain in the window nearby). Bearden’s figurative elements included African masks.  Are these reminders of lost African ancestors?

In an earlier post, I wrote about an August 5, 2012 Newark Museum workshop I led titled Conjur Woman: Portrait in Collage. The post included many images by participants in the workshop. This post includes more images created at the workshop. See their images below.

See images…and read more about the life and art of Romare Bearden at the Studio Museum of Harlem website.

See the upcoming exhibition Romare Bearden: Urban Rhythms and Dreams of Paradise at the ACA Gallery (529 W 20 St., NYC). The exhibition runs November 3, 2012-January 5, 2013. Reception date TBA.

Romare Bearden, Conjur Woman, 1964

The image above by Romare Bearden is titled Conjur Woman (1964). It’s a small collage, only 9×7 inches and was created with snippets from newspapers and magazines like Ebony and the Saturday Evening Post. She is looking at us. See her hands. One holds a leaf – to make a potion? Notice the window in the upper right corner. Are we looking out at the full moon?

See more Bearden images in a post I wrote on January 15, 2011 titled Romare Bearden: Conjur Woman and Collage.

Looking At Collage Looking At You

Bearden’s is a radically inclusive artistic vision.

We can’t help but participate. He draws us in.

We are viewing and we are viewed.

Romare Bearden, Carolina Morning, 1974

The Bearden image above is titled Carolina Morning (1974). It’s mixed media collage on board, 30×22 inches. The work was included in the Southern Recollections show that travelled to the Newark Museum.

We see a woman holding a baby. Is she in a doorway or on a porch?  An older woman with a young child is in the distance. Are they approaching – or departing? We are caught in the woman’s gaze and have to wonder what she is thinking about.

CONJUR WOMAN by Workshop Participants

Here are additional images by people who attended the Conjur Woman workshop at the Newark Museum August 5, 2012.

Now, I look at the art and notice how it is looking back at me.

Mansa Mussa, Conjur Woman (detail)

Mansa Mussa sent me a close up view of his collage, seen above. Notice the face of Romare Bearden (a photo he took when he met the artist in person). Bearden is playing drums. Notice the saxophone player in the foreground. He’s looking at you. This work is all about jazz music. Bearden was a great jazz fan and knew all the greats.

Joan Alleyne-Piggot, Without Limits

Joan Alleyne-Piggot sent me her image titled “Without Limits, seen above. It’s a collage with text and magazine papers. Notice her emphasis on mouths.  She wrote:
What the eyes can’t see, the ears will hear
What the ears can’t hear, the nose will smell
What the nose can’t smell, the lips will taste
What the lips can’t taste, the hands will touch
Everything is without limits if one fails to try,

She wrote: “I was inspired  by Romare Bearden’s work after attending the premiere at the Newark Museum and decided to take the workshop.  It was very inspiring.”

Dorothy Meissner, The Conjurer

Dorothy Meissner sent me an image of her collage titled The Conjurer, seen above.

At the workshop she built her collage with black and white stripes (the piano keyboard all around), and skyscraper imagery. She finished the collage at home after the workshop when she found her skyscraper magazine images. She wanted the skyscraper image to capture the energy of the big city.

I will visit the Studio Museum in Harlem and write soon about the The Bearden Project show before it closes on October 21st. I will also visit the ACA Galleries and write about the upcoming Bearden show Urban Rhythms and Dreams of Paradise.

Thank you for reading this post and thank you for your comments about all the exhibitions this year that honor the creative genius of this great artist.

Romare Bearden

August 9, 2012

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.

I am a great fan of Calvin Tomkins who writes brilliantly about contemporary art and artists.

His book LIVES of the ARTISTS includes in-depth profiles of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, Richard Serra and others.

The book is exciting to read, filled with personal information and critical insight, and would be appealing to everyone who is interested in art and artists.

Tomkins writes: contemporary art is all about choices.

I’m a collage artist. Collage is the most contemporary art medium, accessible to everyone. Collage is all about choices.

I got a phone call from Stephen McKenzie, the manager of Adult Education in the Visual Arts at the Newark Museum (Newark, NJ). He asked me to lead a mini collage workshop this past Saturday for museum members.

I chose to say yes.

I wanted the opportunity to promote two upcoming workshops, and, as always, to promote creativity through collage.

In May I did a very successful workshop titled Possibilities with Paper at the Museum. I am scheduled to teach Possibilities with Paper 2 and 3 in August and in October.  There are so many possibilities. Collage is the perfect contemporary media.

The Newark Museum Mini Collage Workshop

I gave a lot of thought to what the Newark Museum mini workshop would include, and wanted to offer a project that would encourage looking and promote understanding visually.

Here are some of the possible mini workshop themes I considered:

Possibilities with Paper

Project: Create variations in papers for collage

Embellish surfaces

Create texture with paint and tools

Combine elements and explore design

Repurpose papers for collage

I will teach Possibilities with Paper 2 at the Newark Museum on August 7, 2011,  and will teach possibilities with Paper 3 at the Newark Museum on October 30, 2011. See more information about the 2 workshops.

Colorful Collage

Project: discover a personal color palette

Explore rich saturated colors in watercolor and pastel

Play with variations in hue, value and chroma

Select magazine images in related colors

Explore complementary colors

I will teach a Colorful Collage workshop on July 17 at the Pelham Art Center.

The Art of Romare Bearden

Project: explore collage as layered imagery

Explore variation in scale

Design with geometric and curved shapes

Play with pattern, surface and line

Last year I taught 2 workshops at the Newark Museum inspired by Romare Bearden. One was titled Caribbean Landscape. Another was titled Conjur Woman: Portrait in Collage.  Each full-day workshop is 6 hours – long enough to complete a collage.

A Question of Time

The two mini workshops would each last 90 minutes so the project had to be simple and not take too long to complete. I wanted everyone to be able to start quickly and have enough time to finish.

My top choice was Romare Bearden because this is a special year (the centennial of his birth) and many museums and galleries are honoring him with retrospective exhibitions (including the recent show at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery on West 57 Street in New York City). The exhibition closed May 21, 2011.

See works by Romare Bearden online at the Michael Rosenfeld gallery website.

I wanted people to see and understand how Bearden constructed his collage images. But I was also concerned that it would require more time than was available.

Serendipity and the art of Jean Dubuffet

The day before the scheduled workshop, I discovered an image by Jean Dubuffet (French, 1901-1985) with a fabulous, provocative quote – it was guaranteed to stimulate and inspire. Here’s the quote:


“What I expect from any work of art is that it surprises me, that it violates my customary valuations of things and offers me other, unexpected ones. 

Art doesn’t go to sleep in the bed made for it. It would sooner run away than say its own name: what it likes is to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what its own name is.

Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery. I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.”

Jean Dubuffet

The image above is titled Sylvain. It’s 10×6 inches. It’s a collage made with insect wings.

This is how I organized the Museum mini workshop project:

Provide 12×12 inch construction paper in a deep hue

Provide a free-form profile drawing on 9×12 yellow paper

Provide magazine images of faces, eyes and mouths

Supply scissors, markers, glue, seam rollers and squeegee

Supply magazines for additional collage papers

Everyone got a color copy of the Dubuffet image and the quote.

I read the quote aloud.

I discussed how the image was constructed with insect wings – and also pointed out that there was an eye and teeth that could be on top or below the other papers.

Everyone was instructed to cut out the profile drawing and either trace or glue the drawing onto the larger sheet (and they got to choose where to place it). I did a demonstration on how to apply the glue. I suggested that they notice how Dubuffet limited the range of colors and try to select papers in a similar tonal range.

The rest was up to them. They chose how to proceed and what images, patterns and colors to include.

See samples of their work below. Notice how each one is unique.

workshop collage

workshop collage

workshop collage

workshop collage

I was attracted to Dubuffet’s quote and art and connected both back to a comment by Calvin Tomkins in LIVES OF THE ARTISTS. He described Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst – contemporary art stars – as the reigning heirs of deliberately outrageous art that feeds off the corrupting influences of capitalist glut and entertainment.

Dubuffet called his work Art Brut. He created with common media. His art was not high brow and he created deliberately outrageous art.

See Damien Hirst’s butterfly winged art (done in 2003), and read the review.

Thanks for reading. Please add your comments below.


January 22, 2011

January 21, 2011

I live in the suburbs just outside Metro New York.  This winter it’s snowed every week. Up to 3 feet has accumulated in places. People are starting to complain.

Snow does slow down the rhythm of your day. Especially in the burbs. You need a car to get around and you have to count on the road crews to plow and salt if you need to get anywhere. There’s also the issue of your walkways, driveways and steps. Who’s doing the snow shoveling? Somebody has to shovel. If you have to commute to work and want to avoid the drive, you have to work at home. If you have to get to your job, you have to deal with delays. I work at home. I do it because I can, but I miss my studio and the routines I’ve established.

Last Thursday, a cub reporter for a local paper in a nearby town stopped me on the street. He had a professional camera in his hands. He asked if I would let him interview me – and I said yes. WHY NOT? I wondered what he wanted to ask.

He asked:  Do you like snow? SNOW?

I was so surprised by the question. Everywhere I looked the snow was piled high.

I said: I love snow. It’s beautiful most of the time. And, hey, it’s winter.  It’s supposed to snow in the winter (I can be very philosophical about the seasons). I remember lots of snow as a girl (see my comments below).

nikkal, squares in totems 3

We were due for more snow. I could smell it in the air, and we got a lot of snow the next day.

He asked: “Is it a problem for you? How do you cope with snow?”

I replied: It really isn’t a question of coping. It’s not really a problem for me. The roads get plowed so the inconvenience doesn’t last that long, and I can work at home. I don’t have the kind of job that requires me to be at a specific place. I make sure I have everything I need to do my work – the  media and tools I need.  I told him I am a collage artist and work with papers, glue and paint.

(The collage nearby was produced at the kitchen table at home last weekend.)

When I talked to the reporter, I wondered if he expected the answers I gave, and if anyone else he interviewed said they had a problem with snow. Would anyone admit they had a problem with snow?

I feel lucky I can work at home. But it does slow me down. There are distractions. There’s a different rhythm to the work that gets done. The light and the workspace are different.

Probably, everyone who isn’t a nurse, doctor, policeman or firefighter can work at home. Who else is so essential they have to be at work and can’t work at home?

The reporter took my picture. I gave him my business card and asked him to check out my website. I never got a copy of the newspaper and don’t know if my picture or the interview was in the paper.

nikkal, squares in totems 2

I rushed to my car to drive to the market to get milk and juice. My favorite milk (the one with 0% fat that tastes like whole milk) had disappeared from the shelves. The teenager at the checkout said the store was mobbed an hour earlier. He looked like he had been through an ordeal.

(The collage nearby was created during a day it snowed. The pieces remind me of blankets.)

With all the snow, and the time spent in the house, I’m catching up on a lot of email, organizing image files, and spending quality time planning a new step-by-step collage workshop. I will post results on my next blog –  it’s more how-to tips on Conjur Woman portrait collage inspired by Romare Bearden that is a follow up on an earlier blog titled Romare Bearden Conjur Woman and Collage.

Last night we got 4 more inches of snow. It was very cold and icy, but the roads were plowed and clear by mid-afternoon. I took the picture  (above) outside my front door at about 3:20 EST. We expect more snow next week.

Do you complain about the snow? Is it a hardship? Do you have to carpool? How do you get your work done if you can’t get to work? Or – is the snow something you enjoy? Does it bring back happy memories? Does it inspire you? Do you want to sit back, make yourself a soothing cup of tea and write about it?

nikkal, squares in a striped field

I have a memory of snow, and of being stranded with my family in a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains when I was a small girl. We got snowed in. We were visiting a very rustic couple (he hunted and fished and they lived an almost totally self-sufficient existence.

I don’t remember how we got outside the snow-blocked front door, but I do remember wearing snow shoes and walking on the high snow in the bright sunlight. It was magical.

The image nearby was created at the kitchen table and reminds me of a snowfield.

Thank you for your comments below.

Romare Bearden: Conjur Woman 1975

I teach a portrait collage workshop titled Conjur Woman, inspired by the artist Romare Bearden.

What is a conjur woman? She is a real woman who practices magical arts. Conjure women supposedly can heal or destroy. For Romare Bearden, Conjur Woman was about ritual, magic and memories.

Bearden spelled conjure without and “e.”  She was a woman who knew herbs and prepared love potions and gave counsel on family matters. Bearden spoke about how he remembered being frightened of her as a boy when he visited family in Charlotte, NC where he was born.

Read about Bearden’s childhood and early influences.

Many art historians consider Romare Bearden (African-American 1911-1988) one of the most important collage artists of the 20th century. He is best known for the collages he made beginning in the 1960s, continuing with collage as his primary media until his death in 1988.

Conjur Woman (1975), seen above, is collage with magazine papers, Photostat reproductions and Color-Aid (silkscreen) papers, image size: 46×36 inches.

Conjur Woman 1971

Look at the image nearby of  Bearden’s Conjur Woman (1971), composed almost entirely with black and white papers (collage on paperboard, image size: 22×16 inches).

Notice the bold green collage papers that frame her face and is her nose. Do you see the birds?  Do you think this Conjur Woman is a healer or a destroyer?

I love this image and will make my own portrait collage, with this work as inspiration.

I have to interpret the women I’ve known, including very powerful women in my own family. I remember tea leaf readings, ESP, and clairvoyance.

All the people who attend my Conjur Woman workshops have been women of a certain age (around age 40 and up). They are urban, and suburban. Some are women of color. They are a mix of retirees, working professionals, a few artists and art teachers.  One exception was a young and successful entrepreneur from India named Anil. All the women in the workshop loved the fact that a man had joined our group! He started a collage with paint and newspaper, but his real Conjur Woman collage was in another media. Anil created a video dance sequence of a nude model cavorting across a figure drawing classroom for his iPad.

I think Bearden would have loved the image and the technology.

In The Art of Romare Bearden, Ruth Fine wrote: Bearden’s  themes were universal. He combined images of everyday African American life, his personal memories, classical literature, myth, music, religion and human ritual. I recommend this book for your collection. It’s filled with full-color  images and several important essays on the life and work of the artist. It is the museum catalog for The Art of Romare Bearden, his solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Romare Bearden, Conjur Woman (1964)

The image nearby is another Conjur Woman by Bearden, completed in 1964. It’s only 9×7 inches, and was created with snippets from newspapers and magazines such as Ebony and the Saturday Evening Post.

Bearden enlarged his small collages into Photostat black and white reproductions, which he called PROJECTIONS. The Photostat was a photographic process popular from the 1950s through the 1980s (now replaced with photocopies and digital technology).

The Photostats allowed Bearden to turn light skin into dark skin, and to reproduce clippings from Ebony, Life and Look magazines.

Bearden’s Projections were a sensation because they made his tiny collages into huge, graphically powerful black and white “prints.”

Some critics say Bearden’s work is influenced by Cubism.

Compare Bearden’s figures in his collage Prevalence of Ritual: Baptism (below) with Pablo Picasso’s Cubist painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (below). You may see the influence of Picasso on Bearden.


Romare Bearden: Prevalence of Ritual-Baptism (1964)

Pablo Picasso:Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (1907)

Les Demoiselles D’Avignon shocked and offended everyone for the way it was painted and its subject matter (women in a brothel). Picasso called the painting “my first exorcism painting.”

Do you see the influence of African art on Picasso?

The masklike faces in Picasso’s Demoiselles were obviously influenced by African masks and sculpture.

Romare Bearden was an avid student of art history, and understood that Picasso’s imagery was appropriated from African sculpture and masks.

Bearden filtered Cubism right back to its African roots

Bearden’s art bridged the gap between Western art and African art. He filtered Cubism right back.


You can make your own collage portrait of a Conjur Woman. She can be someone you know, a self-portrait, a figure in history, a song-siren, or a movie goddess. She can be fearful or enchanting or inspiring.

Look at Romare Bearden’s collages. Observe how his people are represented.

Look at how he fractured features, placed hands, distorted and juxtaposed the pieces that he put into the image.  He did that deliberately. He didn’t want to use another person’s image or face. He wanted to make the image his own.

Observe the media Bearden used.

What are the main pieces? Are they photographs? Magazine cutouts? Drawings? Solid color or patterned papers? Fabric? Painted or silkscreened papers?

What is the image about? Can you make the image personal? Contemporary?

Think about how much color Bearden used and how much is black and white.

Notice if there are animals, birds and snakes in the background.

What would you add to your collage to make it personal?

Visit the Bearden Foundation for information about current exhibitions, new publications and lectures.

See and hear Bearden talk about his life and work at WORLD News.

I hope you are inspired by the art of Romare Bearden and make a Conjur Woman portrait collage.

Thank you for reading this post. Thank you for your comments below.

Let Me Do It My Way

November 3, 2010

I teach collage to teens and adults. In July I was really worried that my workshop Mo-Jo lost its luster. Some students told me they didn’t understand the class projects; some told me they weren’t happy with their own work. People have different skill levels. I thought everyone was doing great work, but the group dynamic felt flat.

We did a different collage each week inspired by a famous modern artist. What if everyone just wanted to play with paint and papers, make their own collage, and not have to think too hard about any famous artist or his/her styles and media? Was I being too controlling?

Everyone wants choices. That’s the new paradigm.

The image at left is called “Serendipity.” It’s inspired by a print by Jean Dubuffet (French, 1901-1985).

Serendipity has movable pieces – I made it that way. The eyes, nose, mouth, hands and hat are not glued down. The face changes as pieces get moved around, and when pieces are turned over, the texture and colors are different on the reverse side. Collage (and serendipity) is all about welcome surprises. You may like the back of the piece better than the front!

An art teacher in my class at the Pelham Art Center (Pelham, NY) loved the Serendipity project. She worked in her own style – and riffed on the sample for the project.

My new mantra: Don’t try and direct people – especially young people.

Young people don’t want to hear you talk. I learned this from pre-teen girls who visited my studio recently.

The visit was organized by the STRIVE program in New Rochelle, NY. The adult leader told me to speak about what it was like to be an artist. I didn’t get too far into my talk. A girl raised her hand, pointed to my printmaking press and asked – Can I make a print? How direct. What a great interruption!

All the girls wanted hands-on, so I got out a Plexiglas® plate and let them brayer layers of purple ink onto the plate. I shared my oil pastels so they could draw multi-colored squiggles and hearts and write their names (backward) on the plate. I set the inked, embellished plate on the press bed, placed a sheet of good paper over the plate, put protective papers on top, then the press blankets, and then each girl took a turn with the star wheel and moved the image through the press (back and forth), and everyone got a mini turn at the star wheel.

I recently led a workshop for young adults at Bloomfield College in Bloomfield, NJ. (invited by Rosalind Nzinga Nichol, who teaches the class at the College). The assigned theme was narrative portrait collage. I planned to start with a short talk and then a demonstration. I changed the plan. They already knew what a narrative portrait collage should look like. We started by searching for magazine images.

The collage nearby is remarkable for the way it’s assembled. I observed the student as he looked through countless magazines to find exactly the images he wanted. We all thought it was great.

The image below is titled Girls Just Want To Have Fun. The figure is in multiple pieces and its organization is very sophisticated. Each letter is a magazine cut out, placed perfectly.

I spoke only a little at the workshop, gave quick instructions on how to tear pages out of magazines, and how to cut out images and leave a tiny border. I brought photocopies of hats, stripes and patterns in black and white and colors to share. While they were tearing and cutting up magazines, I walked around and showed samples of narrative portraits and talked about layering background papers and figure images.

I showed everyone how to apply glue up to the edges, and demonstrated how to get papers glued down clean and flat using a wood seam roller and plastic squeegee.

Let Me Do It My Way – again – Let Me Do It My Way

I like the fact that the words “Let Me Do It My Way” can mean two things. That was my intention. It can refer to me directing (it’s my way!). It can also refer to you ignoring my directions and doing it your own way.

I have a lot of information to share about collage. Now I understand I need to accommodate people when they want to push away from my ideas and explore their own ideas.

I wrote this blog for Lesson#2 at Blog Triage, an on-line workshop for artists coordinated by Alyson B. Stanfield and Cynthia Morris.

Lesson #2 was about finding your own “voice.” It asked us to develop a topic  and edit and post a blog that best represented our voice.

I know my voice – I’m conversational. I am in love with words (and images!), and love everything in layers. I actually am a member of the Society of Layerists in Multi-Media (SLMM is based in Albuquerque, NM).

A friend says I should make things simple (simple is better). Another friend says I should say everything in fewer words.

The issue in this blog is the struggle of independence vs. control. That’s why I titled is “Let Me Do It My Way. I believe there should never be a power struggle when it comes to making art.

Did you think this was an engaging topic?

Do you think people prefer (do you prefer) to learn by jumping right in and doing it – or do you think people prefer (do you prefer) direction from a teacher (or another person) who’s planned the project?

This subject is very important to me. It took me a while to figure it out. Now I know that most people prefer to jump right in.

Were you inspired by the workshop student images in this blog? They are similar to those created by adults in my Conjur Woman Portrait Collage workshops (inspired by Romare Bearden, African American, 1911-1988).

Did you check out the link to Jean Dubuffet? He is one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His work is known as Arte Brut.

Rosalind Nzinga Nichol, professor at Bloomfield College wrote about the workshop and added a nice compliment in her blog PAPERGIRL. Thank you Rosalind. I love paper too. She is a wonderful artist and teacher.

Thank you for reading this long blog, and for adding your comments below.