Romare Bearden: 1911 – 1988

Romare Bearden Empress of the BluesBorn on September 2, 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Romare Bearden was a multi-talented artist and one of America’s foremost collagists.  Bearden’s family moved to New York City in 1914 in an attempt to distance themselves from Jim Crow’s “separate but equal” laws.

Bearden initially studied at Lincoln University but transferred to Boston University where he was the art director of Beanpot, a student humour magazine. He then completed his degree in education at New York University.  At NYU, Bearden was enrolled in art classes and was a lead cartoonist and art editor for the monthly journal “The Medley”.  During his University years, he published numerous journal covers and wrote many texts on social and artistic issues.  Bearden also attended New York’s Art Students League, studying under German artist George Grosz. Bearden served in the US Army between 1942 and 1945 and returned to Europe in 1950 to study art and philosophy at the Sorbonne with the support of the GI Bill.

From the 1930′s to the 1960′s Bearden was a social worker with the New York City Department of Social Services and worked on his art in his free time.  He had his first successful solo exhibitions in Harlem in 1940 and in Washington DC in 1944. In 1954, he married dancer and choreographer Nanette Rohan, with whom he shared the rest of his life. During this time, Bearden was active in Harlem’s art scene and was a member of the Harlem Artists Guild.

Bearden was a prolific artist who experimented with numerous mediums including watercolours, oils, collage, photo montage, prints, and costume and set design. His inspiration was gathered from his lifelong study of art from the Western masters, African art, Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints, and Chinese landscape paintings. Bearden is best known for his collages which were featured on the covers of Time and Fortune magazines in 1968.

Bearden was active in numerous arts organizations and was a respected writer and spokesperson for the arts and for social causes. In 1964, he was appointed as art director of the African-American advocacy group, the Harlem Cultural Council.  He was also involved in the establishment of art venues such as The Studio Museum and the Cinque Gallery that supported young minority artists. Bearden was also a founding member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972.

Bearden’s work is on display in major museums and galleries in the United States including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Bearden received numerous honorary degrees including doctorates from the Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Davidson College, Atlanta University, and others.  He received the 1984 Mayor’s Award of Honour for Art and Culture in New York City, and the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Ronald Regan in 1987.

Romare Bearden died in New York on March 12, 1988 from complications due to bone cancer.  His estate provided for the Romare Bearden Foundation which was established  in 1990 and whose purpose is “to preserve and perpetuate” his legacy.  The foundation also supports the “creative and educational development of young people and of talented and aspiring artists and scholars”.

Related Books:
Romare Bearden

The Art of Romare Bearden

Conjuring Bearden

Sources: Romare Bearden Foundation, National Gallery of Art, Artcyclopedia, New York Times, Wikipedia

Man Ray: 1890 – 1976

Larmes-(tears)- Man Ray-1930Born Emmanuel Radnitzky on August 27, 1890 in Philidelphia, PA, Man Ray was an influential artist, best known for his avant-garde photography. He was a leading figure (and the only American) to play a  significant role in the Dada and Surrealist movements.

Ray grew up in Brooklyn, New York and showed artistic ability at an early age.  He studied drawing under Robert Henri and George Bellows at the Francisco Ferrer Social Center (Modern School). Upon his completion of his classes, Ray lived in the art colony of Ridgefield, New Jersey. There, he illustrated, designed and produced small pamphlets (Ridgefield Gazook – 1915) and A Book of Diverse Writings.

Ray had his first solo show at the Daniel Gallery in New York in 1915 and shortly after became interested in photography.  Around the same time, he became friends with Marcel Duchamp with whom he founded the Society of Independent Artists in 1916.  In 1920, along with Duchamp, Katherine Dreier, Henry Hudson, and Andrew McLaren, Ray founded the Société Anonyme, a group that sponsored lectures, concerts, publications, and exhibitions of modern art.

In 1921, May Ray moved to Paris where he settled for twenty years.  He became involved with Dada and Surrealist artists and writers such as Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, Dali, Eluard, Picasso, and others.  While in Paris, Ray worked with different media and produced a variety of works.  In 1922, he began experimenting with his version of a photogram which he called a “rayograph” – the process of creating images from placing objects on photo-sensitive paper.  Ray likened his technique to painting saying that he was “painting with light”.

In the 1920′s and 30′s Ray earned a steady income as a portrait photographer and as one of the foremost fashion photographers for Harper’s Bazaar, Vu, and Vogue.   In the late 1920′s Ray won recognition for his experiments with Sabattier (solarization process) and many of the Surrealists followed his example of using photography in their works.

Man Ray also made his mark in the avant-garde film circles in the 1920′s. In “Le Retour à la Raison”, he created his first “cine-rayographs’ – sequences of cameraless photographs. Other films including “Emak Bakia” (1926), L’Etoile de Mer” (1928), and Les Mystères du Château de Dé” (1929) are now classics of the Surrealist film genre.

At the beginning of World War II, Man Ray left Paris and moved to Los Angeles in 1940 where he focused on painting and creating objects. While there, he also met and married Juliet Browner, a dancer and artists’ model. He remained in LA until 1951 when he returned to his home in Paris where he continued working in a variety of mediums – his photography having the greatest impact on 20th century art.  In 1963 he published his autobiography, “Self-Portrait”.

Man Ray died in Paris on November 18, 1976. His epitaph at the Cimetière du Montparnasse, reads: “unconcerned, but not indifferent”. Juliet Browner died in 1991 and she was interred in the Ray’s tomb. Her epitaph reads, “together again”. Browner set up a  charitable trust and donated much of Ray’s work to museums.

Sources: MOMA, Guggenheim MuseumWikipedia Images: USC, Ciudad de la Pintura

Rufino Tamayo: 1899-1991

Born to a Zapotecan Indian family on August 26, 1899, Rufino Tamayo is one of Mexico’s most renowned painters. An orphan by age 12, Tamayo moved to Mexico City to live with his aunt who enrolled him in commercial school.  He began taking drawing lessons in 1915 and from 1917 to 1921, he studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes.

Tamayo was appointed head of the Department of Ethnographic Drawing at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Mexico City in 1921 where he drew pre-Columbian objects in the Museum’s collection. The influence of the forms and tones of pre-Columbian ceramics are evident in Tamayo’s early works.

Unlike other well-known Mexican artists of the time such as Diego Rivera, Orozco, and Siquieros, Tamayo believed in the universality of painting.  His modern style that was influenced by pre-Columbian and European art, caused him some ridicule by the popular muralists who thought that their “only path” in art should serve revolutionary ideals. Tamayo’s response was “Can you believe that, to say that ours is the only path when the fundamental thing in art is freedom! In art, there are millions of paths—as many paths as there are artists.”

Tamayo’s differences with the Mexican muralists prompted him to move to New York from 1926 to 1928 where he was influenced by the work of European artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse. His painting became a fusion of the European styles of Cubism and Surrealism and his subject matter of Mexican culture.

By the 1930′s Tamayo’s paintings that featured intense colours and textured surfaces had become well known.  He returned to New York between 1936 and 1950 where he created a large body of work, taught at the Dalton School, and exhibited his work at the Valentine Gallery. Tamayo was also a prolific printmaker, and he experimented with bronze and iron sculpture.

Tamayo’s first retrospective was held at the Instituto de Bellas Artes, Mexico City in 1948. In 1950, his successful exhibition at the Venice Biennale led to international recognition.  As well, Tamayo was commissioned to design murals for the National Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City (1952-53) and for UNESCO in Paris (Prometheus Bringing Fire to Man, 1958).

Tamayo and his wife Olga lived in Paris between 1957 and 1964 before returning to Mexico City permanently in 1964.  The French government named him Chevalier and Officier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1956 and 1969.

Tamayo donated his collection of pre-Columbian art to the city of Oaxaca in 1974, founding the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Hispanic Art. As well, in 1981, he and his wife donated their collection of international art to the people of Mexico, forming the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City.

Tamayo’s work was exhibited in group and solo shows around the world including retrospectives at the São Paulo Bienal in 1977 and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1979. In 1988, he received the Belisario Domínguez Medal of Honor. Tamayo created his final painting  (a self portrait), in 1989 at the age of 90 – Hombre con flor (Man with flower). He died in Mexico City on June 24, 1991.

Sources: Guggenheim Collection, Albright-Knox Gallery, Wikipedia,, Images: Ciudad de la Pintura

Henri Cartier-Bresson: 1908 – 2004

Born on August 22, 1908, in Chanteloup, Seine-et-Marne, near Paris, Henri Cartier-Bresson is considered by many to be the father of modern photo-journalism.

In 1927, Cartier-Bresson studied painting at the Lhote Academy in Paris under Cubist painter and sculptor André Lhote. He turned to photography in 1931 when he acquired a Leica 35mm camera – a camera that, unlike its bulky predecessors, was ideal for capturing action.

Cartier-Bresson preferred an unobtrusive (“a fly on the wall”) approach to photography. This approach helped to develop the real life reporting (candid photography), that has influenced generations of photo-journalists.

Cartier-Bresson traveled the world photographing “the times” in Russia, China, Cuba, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Turkey, Europe , and the United States.  He photographed events such as the funeral of Gandhi, the fall of Beijing, and the liberation of Paris. Cartier-Bresson’s main body of work however was of human activities and the institutions of  society. In every country, he sought out market places, weddings, funerals, people at work, children in parks, adults in their leisure time, and other every-day activities.

During the Battle of France, in June 1940 Cartier-Bresson was captured by German soldiers and spent 35 months in prisoner-of-war camps doing forced labor under the Nazis.  He escaped in 1943 and began working for MNPGD, a secret organization that aided prisoners and escapees. At the end of the war, Cartier-Bresson directed “Le Retour” (The Return), a documentary on the repatriation of prisoners of war and detainees.

In 1947, along with Robert Capa, David Seymour, William Vandivert, and George Rodger, Cartier-Bresson founded the co-operative agency “Magnum Photos”. The aim of Magnum was to allow photographers to “work outside the formulas of magazine journalism”.

In 1952, Cartier-Bresson published a book of his photographs entitled ” Images à la sauvette” (images on the run),  with the English title “The Decisive Moment”. In the 1960′s he created 16 portraiture stories entitled “A Touch of Greatness” for the the London magazine “The Queen”. The stories profiled personalities such as Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller, Robert Kennedy and others.

In 1968, Cartier-Bresson left Magnum Photos and photography in general, focusing once again on drawing and painting.  He retired from photography completely by 1975 and had his first exhibition of his drawings at the Carlton Gallery in New York in 1975.

From 1975 on, Cartier-Bresson continued to focus on drawing. In 1982 he was awarded the Grand Prix National de la Photographie in Paris, and in 1986, the Novecento Prize in Palermo, Italy.  In 1988, the Museum of Modern Art in New York held an exhibition of his photographs – “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Early Work”.

In 2003, Cartier-Bresson, along with his wife Martine Franck and their daughter Mélanie, launched the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, to provide a permanent home for his collected works and as an exhibition space for other artists. Cartier-Bresson died peacefully on August 3rd 2004 in Montjustin, Provence. He was buried in the cemetery of Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France.

For a complete biography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, visit the HCB Foundation or for a good source of photos visit Magnum Photos.

Related Books:
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century
The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers

An Inner Silence: The Portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson

Sources: Met Museum, National Press Photographer’s Association, HCB Foundation, Wikipedia

ART-O-MAT: Pocket Art

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Many art lovers simply don’t have the budget to purchase original works of art.  Enter the Art-O-Mat – re-purposed cigarette vending machines that have been converted to sell pocket size original works of art.

North Carolina artist Clark Whittington created the first Art-O-Mat in 1997 which he showed along side his paintings at a solo show at a local cafe. The machine sold his black & white photographs for $1.00 each. The art show was scheduled to close, however, the owner of the Penny Universitie Gallery, Cynthia Giles, loved the Art-O-Mat and asked that it stay.  It remains in its original location to this day. Following the show, the involvement of other artists was necessary for the project to continue. Giles introduced Whittington to other local artists and the group “Artists in Cellophane” was formed.

“Artists in Cellophane (A.I.C.), the sponsoring organization of Art-O-Mat is based on the concept of taking art and “repackaging” it to make it part of our daily lives. The mission of A.I.C. is to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form. A.I.C believes that art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable.”

The Art-O-Mat dispenses original art-works and may include paintings, photographs, sculpture, collage, illustration, handmade jewellery, textile arts, and more. There are 82 machines in at least 28 American States, one in Quebec, Canada, and one in Vienna, Austria. There are around 400 contributing artists from 10 different countries currently involved in the Art-o-mat project.

For more information, to get involved, or to find an Art-O-Mat near you, visit

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