Romare Howard Bearden (American, 1911-1988)
Mother and Child, 1968
Mixed media on board 39 7/8 in. x 29 7/8 in. (101.3 cm x 75.9 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase1973.24
Romare Bearden was a polymath whose art spanned his many interests and explored themes of identity, myth, literature, history, jazz, and ritual, primarily via collage. Bearden was the son of New York intellectuals who were closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance. An artist, musician, and social worker, Bearden earned a degree in mathematics from New York University before he enrolled at the New York Art Students League in 1936. His early work was heavily influenced by European Modernism, but the dramatic political events surrounding the 1960s Civil Rights movement spurred him to explore themes of African American life in the urban north and the rural south. Bearden considered his multi-media constructions to be paintings that addressed social issues of ongoing importance, and in them he combined diverse artistic influences ranging from African sculpture and Cubism to Surrealism. Bearden’s development of composition and color in collages such as Mother and Child is rooted in his use of photography. He appreciated “. . . the interplay between the photograph and the actual painting,” adjusting his color to the grays of the photograph to limit the disparity in color between them.1 This weighing of choices is evident here. Bearden portrays a mother and child grouping, an iconic arrangement in Western art, but deliberately gives them visages of African masks in the form of photo reproductions printed on paper. His use of photography extends to the mother’s plain clothing, which Bearden identified with the common dress of the South, thereby exploring African American identity through a modern artistic vocabulary.