US painter, printmaker, and collage artist. A leading African-American artist and Social Realist, Bearden is considered to be one of the most distinguished collage artists of the 20th century. His work, rich in symbolism, is characterized by a semi-abstract style, bright Caribbean colours, movement, complexities, and rhythmic patterns. Inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and influenced by cubism, predominant themes in his work include music, family, traditional rituals, the rural south, and urban life, as in his collage Urban Street Scene (early 1970s; Art Gallery, University of Maryland).
In the mid-1960s Bearden used his paintings to advance the civil rights movement. He spent the last 15 years of his career working on a variety of prints, ranging in subject matter from his life in the south, his participation in the Harlem Renaissance, and his studies in Europe. Bearden's love of both music and art led to some of his most exciting compositions, in which he managed to combine the two disciplines. In some works music is the subject matter, such as Jazz (1979; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska); while in others, such as In a Green Shade (1984), the lyrical patterns of the composition visually communicate rhythm and melody.
Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but moved with his family to Harlem, New York City, at a very young age. His father was active in the New York art scene, and during the Harlem Renaissance the apartment was always full of artists and musicians. In 1925 Bearden moved to Pittsburgh where he finished high school, but he moved back to New York where he took a degree in mathematics at Columbia University. After spending three years in the army, he went to Europe, where he was heavily influenced by the art that he saw, and studied philosophy and art history at the Sorbonne in Paris. By the time he returned to New York to pursue a career as an artist, his mature semi-abstract collage style was already developed.
Other US Social Realists include Jacob Lawrence and Ben Shahn.