The Farmers: student art inspired by Romare Bearden

Spring 2021

Recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the twentieth century, the artist Romare Howard Bearden (1911-1988) was a New York City social worker by day and an artist by night as he worked to launch his career. His life and art encompass a broad range of intellectual and scholarly interests, including music, performing arts, history, literature and world art.

Bearden was also a celebrated humanist, as demonstrated by his lifelong support of young, emerging artists…like these Methow Valley Elementary School 1st grade students, who created collages in an exploration of texture*, inspired by Bearden’s 1968 mixed media collage The Farmer.

Working with Methow Arts Alliance’s Youth Arts Initiative (YAI) instructor Bethany Wray, students painted a watercolor/oil pastel resist background, using tools like forks and bubble wrap to create interesting textures. Next, they examined images of Bearden’s “The Farmer” and other collage works before creating their own, using paper of various weights, fibers, embossing, and embellishments.

Bearden was not only one of the most talented American artists of the 20th Century but also one of the most complicated, a 2004 Chicago Tribune article explains. “An extremely light-skinned African-American, [Bearden] easily could have lived his life as white but refused to do so, devoting most of his art to African-American life and the struggles of blacks to achieve respect and equality.”

Bearden developed an understanding of the richness of African-American culture while living and working in Harlem and spending time with family in North Carolina. In the 1960s, he adopted collage as a medium with the potential to abstract and fragment the human figure in an improvisational manner similar to that of jazz music. Works such as The Farmer incorporate layered materials to provide an intimate portrait of a figure.

Bearden’s work often combined collage with acrylic paint, drawings, oil paints, mosaics, and black & white photography, which would typically be considered “collage” pieces. But Bearden always referred to these works as “paintings,” because he used the techniques and materials of collage to create the rhythms, surfaces, tones, and moods associated with painting.

Learn more about Romare Bearden HERE.

* Texture is one of the elements of art that students in the YAI program study. Texture refers to the surface quality in a work of art. Some things feel just as they appear; this is called “real” or “actual” texture. Some things look like they are rough but are actually smooth. Texture that is created to look like something it is not is called “visual” or “implied” texture.

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