An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden
Mary Schmidt Campbell (Author)
DescriptionBy the time of his death in 1988, Romare Bearden was most widely celebrated for his large-scale public murals and collages, which were reproduced in such places as Time and Esquire to symbolize and evoke the black experience in America. As Mary Schmidt Campbell shows us in this definitive, defining, and immersive biography, the relationship between art and race was central to his life and work -- a constant, driving creative tension. Bearden started as a cartoonist during his college years, but in the later 1930s turned to painting and became part of a community of artists supported by the WPA. As his reputation grew he perfected his skills, studying the European masters and analyzing and breaking down their techniques, finding new ways of applying them to the America he knew, one in which the struggle for civil rights became all-absorbing. By the time of the March on Washington in 1963, he had begun to experiment with the Projections, as he called his major collages, in which he tried to capture the full spectrum of the black experience, from the grind of daily life to broader visions and aspirations. Campbell's book offers a full and vibrant account of Bearden's life -- his years in Harlem (his studio was above the Apollo theater), to his travels and commissions, along with illuminating analysis of his work and artistic career. Campbell, who met Bearden in the 1970s, was among the first to compile a catalogue of his works. An American Odyssey goes far beyond that, offering a living portrait of an artist and the impact he made upon the world he sought both to recreate and celebrate.
Oxford University Press, USA
September 05, 2018
6.4 X 1.4 X 9.3 inches | 1.85 pounds
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About the Author
Mary Schmidt Campbell is President of Spelman College and Dean Emerita of the Tisch School of the Arts. She served as the vice chair of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities under former President Barack Obama.
"An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden is a fascinating book, lovingly detailed and closely illustrating how its subject had to struggle, both as an artist and as a black person, to establish a place in the history of art in America." -- Jim Burns, The Penniless Press
"Campbell offers a discerning portrait of Bearden's long and successful career... A perceptive, richly detailed biography."--Kirkus
"A dynamic portrait... Bearden once wrote, 'The Negro artist must come to think of himself not primarily as a Negro artist, but as an artist, ' and Campbell perfectly encapsulates that notion in this analysis of Bearden's remarkable career."--Publishers Weekly
"[Campbell] authoritatively conveys the complexity of Bearden's struggles as a Black artist who both aggressively supported his Black colleagues in Harlem-based exhibitions and believed that the universality of artistic vision must move beyond any single community to be most effective. It is an exhilarating and instructive read." --Ruth Fine, Curator
"Meticulously researched and highly readable, this ground-breaking analytical biography of one of the twentieth century's leading figures in painting, collage and other art forms is an immensely important addition to recent art historical literature and biography. It is a pleasure to read and is a necessary addition to our American cultural consciousness." --Edward J. Sullivan, Helen Gould Sheppard Professor of the History of Art, Institute of Fine Arts (Deputy Director), New York University
"In this extraordinary book, Mary Schmidt Campbell unveils-in brilliantly researched and captivating language-the journey of unrelenting effort and self-discovery that has earned Romare Bearden a place of rare distinction, as both an artist universally revered by the greater art world and as a 'hero' to his own people.... Every page is abundant with vivid imagery and detail that brings Romare Bearden's artistic odyssey to life. Bravo!" --Dianne McIntyre, Choreographer
"Dr. Campbell's elegant prose and impeccable scholarship brilliantly illuminate the life and career of one of the twentieth century's great artistic visionaries. True to its name, An American Odyssey positions Romare Bearden's journey as both deeply his own and inexorably tied to our nation's history." --Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem
"Through her long association with Romare Bearden and his work, Mary Schmidt Campbell possesses a rare understanding of his life and artistry. In this beautifully written volume, she sensitively illuminates his biography and comprehensively traces the trajectory of his career. By brilliantly interweaving the political history of African Americans throughout the 20th century with the emergence of one our foremost artists, she has written a book that speaks to anyone who is interested in American history, art, and culture. Campbell writes that Bearden's legacy is his ability to create worlds; in this biography, she re-creates Bearden's world." --Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University
"By navigating the historical, social, and political contexts informing black aesthetics and Bearden's unique oeuvre, Campbell, president of Spelman College, has produced an invaluable work."--Booklist
"Ms. Campbell's book will be of interest to those just discovering Bearden as well as to experts, along with anyone interested in the history of American art in the mid-to-late 20th century. It is an admirable gesture of friendship from author to subject, one which, in its most closely observed pages, does justice to a remarkable life."--Wall Street Journal
"Campbell's extraordinarily rich biography offers its readers many rewards. Nowhere here is the awkwardness of critics unfamiliar with the history of black art or who isolate it from its frames of reference or consider only how black artists ought to criticize race in America. Hers is a self-confident study of an artist's life in all its contexts."--The Nation, Nell Painter
"Campbell's biography masterfully illuminates how Bearden's life and work was put in the service of the mission of our age, how grasping the method behind his practice allows us to understand the promise of America--a collage approach with an ecumenical embrace of coexisting difference that honors all of human life."
--New York Review of Books