Pancho Villa Dead and Alive

My favorite work by Robert Motherwell is titled Pancho Villa Dead and Alive (1943).

I love the work for the color, texture, painterly surface, the look of the layered papers, and Motherwell’s exuberant approach to his collage practice.  It is mixed media to the max. It looks so contemporary.

What a treat to see this and other works by this artist when I entered the Thannheiser Galleries at the Guggenheim Museum  (through January 5, 2014) at 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street, NY.

I did not expect to see so many – 50 plus collages and related drawings in ink and paint from the period 1943-1951. I did not know Motherwell created that many works in collage media.  Every work is large in scale (especially for collage and drawing).

Robert Motherwell, Pancho Villa Dead and Alive, 1943, Museum of Modern Art/Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Pancho Villa Dead and Alive was created with cut and pasted papers, ink and wood veneer on paper board (28 x 35 7/8 inches). Some papers are printed and embellished with more paint. The paints include oil and gouache (opaque watercolors).

Motherwell layered painted papers in the same color family (see the light blue section in the lower center part of the collage). Notice the paint drips.

Motherwell painted his papers in his favorite colors: black and white, ocher and pale blue.

He used flat light blue paint and faded pink paint for his background and some of the overpainted papers.

He painted red and black splotches and (faded) red and blue drips behind the child-like stick figures that imply two bodies (dead and alive) riddled with bullet holes.

Motherwell liked to work with fine-art drawing papers for their matte appearance and subtle color variations. He liked commercial coated papers, especially in bright colors, because they reminded him of the colors he saw in Mexico (during a 6 month stay with artist Roberto Matta).

Robert Motherwell, View from a High Tower (1944-45), Private Collection/Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

View from a High Tower (above) was completed in 1944-45. It is 29 x 29 inches, tempera, oil, ink, pastel and pasted wood veneer, drawing paper, Japanese paper and printed map on paperboard (private collection).

I recommend the exhibition catalog for the four excellent essays. The first essay is about Motherwell’s early career with Peggy Guggenheim (titled The Theorist and the Gallerist, written by exhibition curator Susan Davidson). Another essay is about Motherwell’s  life-long fascination with themes of violence, revolution and death (titled Bloodstains and Bullet Holes, by Megan M. Fontanella). The third essay is about how he stretched the boundaries and the possibilities of paper as a vehicle for visual ideas (titled  Motherwell’s Risk, by Brandon Taylor). The last essay is about his materials (titled Motherwell’s Materials in the 1940s, by Jeffrey Warda).

Jeffrey Warda’s essay (page 56) mentions that all the commercial papers Motherwell used faded and the strong pink is now a pale flesh tone.

Robert Motherwell, Jeune Fille (1944) private collection/Dedalue Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Robert Motherwell, Jeune Fille (1944) Private Collection/Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Holland Cotter wrote a review for the NY Times (A Painter’s Cut-and-Paste Prequel: Robert Motherwell Early Collages at the Guggenheim, Dec. 3, 2013).

Cotter’s final paragraph asks slyly if Motherwell relinquished his role as sole creator of his work (a defining feature of Abstract Expressionism) because gravity, chemistry and light deserve equal billing as collaborators since the works have changed color, texture and form. My comment: Change is good.

Embellish the Media

I love how Motherwell painted over his media, used patterned papers, painted onto the papers, painted out papers, added lines, dots, drips and splotches. The surface is dense and yet there is incredible freedom in the process, and so much energy in the execution. I love how he tore off layers of papers to expose raw paper surfaces below, and contrasted hard-edge cut papers with soft-edge torn papers.

The image above is titled Jeune Fille (1944). It’s 24 x 19.5 inches, oil, ink, gouache, pasted drawing paper, colored paper, Japanese paper, German decorative paper and fabric on canvas board (private collection).

Motherwell was an explorer – adventurous and exuberant in his practice. Everything in the exhibition looks cutting-edge and even edgy. That is why this show is so important.

Read my comments (below) on how Motherwell got the exhibition that launched his career in 1943 – see FINAL THOUGHTS – Who you know…

Robert Motherwell, 9th Street Exhibition (1951) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Tucker, 1963, Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Robert Motherwell, 9th Street Exhibition (1951) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Tucker, 1963, Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Motherwell was a scholar and a founder member (who wrote about) the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s – also known as the New York School – and (no surprise!) Motherwell’s collages are filled with the gestural energy prerequisite for Ab-Ex painters.

Read more about Abstract Expressionism at the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (Metropolitan Museum of Art) website.

The image above is titled 9th Street Exhibition (1951). It is pasted papers with gouache and ink on paper, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Donazione/Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Tucker, 1963.

Read an excellent overview of Motherwell’s life and career (with images and links) at Wikipedia.

Also see the the humorous (and informed) post  about the Motherwell/Guggenheim exhibition (11/13/13) by Ariel at Collage Volupte called How Robert Motherwell Lost His Dada Cred – its about Motherwell’s connection to Dadaism and Surrealism.

At the end of the post, Ariel writes about an old parlor game called Exquisite Corpse – played by Dadaist poets and visual artists in Europe in the period between World War I and World War II.

Motherwell was fascinated with dada, Surrealism, and automatic drawing.

FYI: Roberto Matta introduced Motherwell to a version of the exquisite corpse game at his NY salon. Motherwell attended the salons regularly in the early 1940s. Read more about the history of the Exquisite Corpse.

FYI: As a game, the exquisite corpse can be played by poets or visual artists. Players add words or images (drawings or collages) in turn. The first player writes or draws, folds the paper and passes it on to the next player. The final image or poem is supposed to be a surprise. Usually there are three or four players but, depending on how the paper is folded, the number can be more or fewer players.

FYI: Pancho Villa is an historic Mexican Revolutionary general, celebrated for his extraordinary feats in battles in the Mexican War for Independence. He was never defeated. He was assassinated in 1923 when he tried to run for political office in Mexico. Many streets throughout Mexico are named for him.


Try to see Robert Motherwell: Early Collages at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89 Street before it closes January 5, 2014.

The exhibition catalog is excellent for the essays, but not for the images. You have to see the works in person. I can remember how bold and colorful the works are. I saw them. I will remember. The catalog colors and resolution is disappointing (it may be because the catalog was relatively inexpensive). The Motherwell exhibition archive and the number of images may change. Best to get to the Museum and see the works in person. If you are a collage artist and if you love collage, you must see this show.


Who you know and how you build relationships with the right people is critically important. It also helps to be a brilliant artist in the right place at the right time.

Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) was an intellectual who wanted to be a painter.

Motherwell got his BA in philosophy and French at Stanford University (CA) and started his PhD in philosophy at Harvard University. He left Harvard, went to Columbia University (NY), met and was mentored by Meyer Schapiro (art history professor with an extraordinary reputation and contacts) who advised Motherwell to quit philosophy and focus on painting.

Meyer Schapiro introduced Motherwell to European emigree artists in NY, including Andre Masson, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. It was helpful that Motherwell was fluent in French, had studied literature and philosophy, and had been to Paris.

Motherwell became good friends with Chilean Surrealist artist Roberto Matta who introduced Motherwell to automatic drawing and Surrealism (which influenced Motherwelll’s artistic practice for the remainder of his life).

Matta also introduced Motherwell to Peggy Guggenheim who invited him (with William Baziotes and Jackson Pollock) to create collages for her upcoming collage exhibition at her gallery Art of This Century in New York.

According to Peter Plagens’s Wall Street Journal review (Robert Motherwell and the Exuberance of Invention, Wall Street Journal, Dec 5, 2013), Peggy Guggenheim wanted to juxtapose the work of pioneering European modernists with younger American artists just beginning to push into Abstract Expressionism. She asked the Americans to create collage for the Art of this Century show.

How could the young artists say no – they had to create the work – they wanted to be included in a show with European masters like Jean Arp, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso.

Motherwell’s collages were a huge success in the Art of this Century show. Peggy Guggenheim organized a solo collage show for Motherwell the following year.

Pancho Villa Dead and Alive was in the second show and immediately purchased and is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art NY.

Please send me your comments. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.


 March 8-10, 2013:

I exhibited 3 collages with the Hullaballoo Collective at the FOUNTAIN Art Fair at the Armory ( New York 2013), at the 69th Regiment Armory at 68 Lexington Avenue @ 25th Street.

The Fountain Art Fair is the original site for the 1913 Armory Show.

It’s the way an art fair should be (quoted in the Economist) because the show reinvents the art fair experience with over 65 international galleries and artist projects. See who was included

The Hullaballoo Collective showed at booths C202-C203 and C204 at Fountain, and describes itself as a diverse group of artists who have come together through social media to present salon style exhibitions.

The image below is one installation at FOUNTAIN 2013, showing a range of works in all media.

View of Hullaballoo installation at Fountain 2013

View of Hullaballoo installation at Fountain 2013

See more images… from the Hullaballoo Facebook site.

Special thanks to Beth Giacummo who curated the installation for Hullaballoo. Giacummo is the Museum Exhibition Director and curator at the Islip Art Museum, Islip, NY.

Special thanks to many Hullaballoo members who worked so hard to make the event a success for everyone – including Bernard Klevickas, CJ Nye, Jordan Baker-Caldwell, Marianne Barcelona and everyone else who helped with installation, press, and so much more (sorry if I left out your name).

The image below is me at the Hullaballoo opening reception Friday, March 8, 2013.

Artist Nancy Nikkal at Hullaballoo opening

Artist Nancy Nikkal at Hullaballoo opening

I had 3 collages at the show, including the work seen below, titled Yves Klein Baloo, 2012, collage on paper, 20”x18.” See 2 more images…

Nancy Egol Nikkal, Yves Klein Baloo, collage

Nancy Egol Nikkal, Yves Klein Baloo, collage


1913: When Modern Art Came to America

David Gelernter  wrote about the original 1913 show in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ, Feb 22, 2013) with the headline When Modern Art Came to America.

The sub-headline was: A 1913 show was widely panned – but it sparked a new era.

The image below shows what the exhibition looked like in 1913 (photo-credit: Beltmann/CORBIS).

The 1913 Armory Show

The 1913 Armory Show

Gelernter wrote: The 1913 Armory show was dreamed up by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors to give young artists a chance to exhibit – and to educate the public about contemporary art.

The public hated it.

The most-discussed, most-attacked painting of all was by Marcel Duchamp (French, 1887-1968), titled Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912, oil on canvas, 58×35 inches.

Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase

Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase

Fast-Forward: The FOUNTAIN Art Fair at the Armory New York honors the creative genius of Marcel Duchamp. The name Fountain comes from his “readymade” sculpture – titled Fountain – a porcelain urinal he signed R.Mutt.

Read about Duchamp’s Fountain and readymades…

The image below, is a photograph of the original signed work. The photo was taken by Alfred Stieglitz at his 921 Gallery.

Alfred Steiglitz photo of the original Fountain

Alfred Steiglitz photo of the original Fountain

More Reviews

On the closing day, art critics Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith visited the Hullaballoo Collective and spoke with artists. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to hear his comments about my work.  The image below is Jerry Saltz with me in front of my work.

Jerry Saltz and me at Hullaballoo booth, Fountain 2013

Jerry Saltz and me at Hullaballoo booth, Fountain 2013

Read the review by Jerry Saltz: “The New Spirit: American Art in the Armory Show, 1913” about the exhibit at the Montclair Art Museum (Montclair, NJ – through June 16, 2013) online at Vulture (2/24/13)

The article originally appeared in the March 4, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.


Saltz opens with: Happy birthday, Modern America! For all practical purposes, you were born 100 years ago this month. After February 17, 1913—the opening of what’s now simply called the Armory Show—you have never been the same. Thank God!

He describes the Montclair Museum exhibition as a blast of fresh scholarship about the original show – but says the original Armory show was uneven.  Most of the artists are lost to history.

Saltz says the Montclair show is a cautionary tale to artists everywhere to be alert…to perceive meta-patterns reforming, tendencies in motion, and your own insides being twisted inside out.

He says: engage with the culture or the culture will pass you by. That means questioning what’s contemporary about what one is saying.

It’s serious business. Read more…

If you saw the 2013 Fountain show, the Montclair Museum show or the Armory Pier 92/94 shows in NYC, please post your comments, and let me know what you think about Marcel Duchamp. Thanks.

Landscape Collage

November 8, 2012

How do you start a collage? It’s a question I’m asked a lot.

I say I like to create the background first. I also like to paint papers for collage.

Recently the class I teach at the Pelham Art Center asked to do another painted paper collage project – a landscape collage inspired by Romare Bearden (1911-1988).

The image below is by Bearden, titled Purple Eden (1987) 10.5×13 inches.

Romare Bearden, Purple Eden

I wrote about Bearden and the workshop in a post titled Caribbean Fantasy Island Collage.

Materials for Painted Paper Collage

I brought paints, palette knives, and papers to the Pelham Art Center for the class to create a collage background (substrate). The papers were torn from a donated  wallpaper book, and were perfect because they were sturdy, large, and FREE. The wallpaper had a pebbly surface that added a nice texture.

I demonstrated how to work with the palette knife. The acrylic paint was not mixed. It was right out of the tube. I showed them how handle the palette knife and apply the paint in varying thicknesses, to scrape paint into thinner layers, and overpaint layers to achieve depth.

We spent one class painting the background paper and painted additional papers for trees, plants, leaves and clouds. We created the media for the collage that would be assembled the following week.

The image below is my sample painted background.

Sample background

The plan was to create an image of an island surrounded by water with a light blue sky above.

To start, I painted the entire paper with yellow green acrylic paint and let it dry. I painted a 2nd layer with blue acrylic directly over the green and created the shape of water surrounding the island. I scraped some of the paint thin to let the green underlayer show through. I mixed white acrylic paint with a tiny amount of blue and painted the horizon line above the island for the sky.

Everybody in the class did their own variation of the island, surrounding water, and sky. They took the painted papers home to dry. I asked them to collect and bring in magazine papers to add to their collage the following week.

The images below are the finished collages. Each one is unique. Each is 16 x 20 inches.

Painted Paper Collage by Carol Frank

Carol added birds and fish and painted paper waves in the water. I said her palm trees were windswept.

Painted Paper collage by Joyce Dutka

Joyce added a mysterious, magical forest within her island landscape, plus many birds and critters she brought to class.

Painted Paper collage by Sheila Benedis

Sheila always does totally abstract collage and creates art books. For her project (seen above), I persuaded her to make her work more like a forest landscape with a hint of trees. The papers extend beyond the rectangle of the painted paper. I took the image on a brown masonite board.

The images below are by Marlene and Lorraine Furtick.

Painted Paper collage by Marlene Furtick

Painted Paper collage by Lorraine Furtick

All the color variations in the painted papers were created by layering paint and scraping into underlayers.

I think the works are truly amazing, especially since the projects were completed in 2 class sessions and a total of 4 hours.

Does the idea of creating your own collage media inspire you?  Romare Bearden painted collage papers with watercolor and called his works collage paintings. Henri Matisse had studio assistants paint his collage papere with gouache. I paint a palette of papers for each collage. You can too.

Please send me your comments.

Painting papers for collage

October 25, 2012

I like to create my own media for collage with watercolor, gouache and acrylic paint. Painting allows me to create multiple sheets of paper in the colors, patterns and texture I want for each collage.

I apply paint to recycled magazine papers and other paper media. I like to work in mixed media collage, and include hand-made papers, decorative papers, my own drawings and prints to the painted papers, and often paint papers to match colors of other papers.

See my online tutorial on painting papers.

I teach classes at the Pelham Art Center and one recent class was devoted to painting papers for collage  (with acrylic paint and also with gouache paint).  Everyone wanted to make custom color papers.

I told the class that two of my favorite collage artists – Romare Bearden and Henri Matisse – worked with painted papers. Bearden painted his own papers, typically in watercolor. Matisse had studio assistants paint his papers for him in gouache.

acrylic paint on paper

The image above is acrylic paint on drawing paper, done by one student  in the Pelham collage class.

We worked with a plastic palette knife. Almost every student I meet has no experience or almost no experience painting with a palette knife. I tell them it’s so easy to get really good results with this technique.

Everyone worked with the same size plastic palette knife and selected and squeezed out the acrylic paint colors. I supplied a variety of acrylic paint brands, including Golden Paints and Liquitex.

assorted papers painted in acrylic

It’s a simple technique

The image above is a selection of 9 papers done with palette knife and acrylic paints by one student in the Pelham collage class.

I did a simple class demonstration, showed them how to set up their palette of paint colors on a disposable paper plate (plastic coated), and very quickly the students started to paint with the palette knife to make their own painted papers. They created an amazing variety of colors, designs and textures.

I showed them how to apply paint over a film of acrylic medium I applied to white drawing paper. After that, I showed them how to apply acrylic paint directly with the palette knife onto magazine pages.

I like to paint on magazine papers – to recycle pages from art magazines like Artforum, and fashion magazines like W because the pages in those magazines are heavier than typical magazines. I don’t recommend using news magazines for painting papers, because the paper is thin and curls when you apply paint or glue, and is difficult to work with in collage.


How to work with acrylic paint:

Use any good brand of acrylic paint. The better brands are usually more expensive because they include more paint pigment. The colors are richer and the coverage is better. I recommend students work with gloss or satin acrylic medium to make the paint thinner. I tell students not to use water to thin the paint.

I often buy art supplies online from Jerry’s Artarama and NY Central Art Supply.

When I am in NYC, I stop by NY Central Artists Supply at 62 Third Avenue. Their paper department is incredible and they ship everywhere.

Dick Blick is another good resource for acrylic, gouache and other art supplies.

Tools for the Workshop

painting tools

In the class demo, I tell students to squeeze out dots or small ½ inch strips of acrylic from the paint tube onto a plastic coated disposable paper plate, and leave some space in the center of the plate so colors can be mixed.

The image above shows a plastic and a metal palette knife, a 1 inch soft paint brush, a paper cup, tubes of gouache paint, a single tube of acrylic paint and the book titled Jazz (about the artist Henri Matisse).

When I paint papers with acrylic, I typically lay the colors down on a disposable paper palette and mix one color at a time. When I paint papers with gouache, I typically mix the paint with water in a small cup so it’s diluted to the proper consistency. For the class, I wanted everyone to be excited by the possibilities of working with different colors and with mixing colors as they painted.

I also mix colors directly on the paper. First, I squeeze acrylic gloss or satin medium from the container directly onto the paper and brush it across, then squeeze dots of acrylic paint out of the tube directly over the medium and move it around with the palette knife to create stripes, patterns and transparencies.

acrylic paint over gloss medium layer

The swirly painted image above is by a student who tried that technique. She applied paint directly over gloss acrylic medium and moved the paint with the palette knife to create transparencies and pattern.

The palette knife can be made of plastic or metal. I supply plastic palette knives. I also work with a metal palette knife. It’s important to wipe the knife clean, especially when changing colors, and never allow the paint to dry onto the knife (acrylic paint can dry quickly).

I urge students to wipe the paint off the knife with a paper towel so that the paint on the knife doesn’t get mixed into water (it they dip the knife into a water container). It’s not good for the environment to pour paint dissolved in water down the drain.

Matisse in his studio in Nice

The image above shows Matisse in his studio in Nice, France in 1952 (this image is included in the book titled the Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse, by John Elderfield, published by George Braziller, NY).

All of Matisse’s collages were created with painted papers. His studio assistants painted his papers for him with gouache.

Matisse said he painted with scissors. He called his works paper cut-outs (gouache decoupes). Read about the Technique of the Cut-Outs…

Henri Matisse, Creole Dancer, 1950, 80×47 inches

The image above, a collage in painted papers, is by Matisse and is titled Creole Dancer (image courtesy the Internet). Notice it is organized as pieced blocks of paper in the background, overlaid with cut out shapes. Notice the painted papers show variations in color saturation and paint density because they are hand-painted.

I tell my students that Matisse did not discard papers that were cut out and that landed on the floor. Notice the image above with Matisse in his studio and all the papers on the floor. Notice his cut-outs were typically curved and organic in shape and referenced nature.

paper collage done in class

The image above is by a student in the Pelham class. She painted papers, and while the paints were drying, she created a collage with colored papers I supplied. Before she glued the papers down, she embellished them with oil pastel drawing to make the surface richer and brighter. Notice the oil pastel sticks in boxes nearby.

The class explored many different techniques with painting papers. They layered colors, wet layer over dry layer, to see how the colors changed. They painted with transparent gouache paint over papers painted with acrylic in patterns. They scribbled wax crayon on white drawing paper (a resist process), and applied acrylic paint in both transparent and opaque layers over to see how the crayon showed through. They all liked that.

I told the class that all the papers they created were usable – nothing was a throwaway. Some were so good they were paintings that could get collage additions and be finished as mixed media works. Some were ideal as unique collage papers and could be reproduced if they wanted multiples for large collage projects.

One student created a palette of papers that coordinated with purchased hand-made papers she brought to class. How clever that she mixed colors to compliment other papers she already had (collage artists collect papers for the next collage).

I showed the class how to twirl wet paint on drawing paper as they painted, and create directional  patterns.

We talked about the art of the cut-out by Henri Matisse. I hope they were inspired.

I’ve  recommended resources for paper and paint above.

Please email me or add comments to the blog if you can share a good resource for paper, paints, and any other media you like to use for collage. Thanks in advance.

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.


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