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

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 Art-O-Mat.org.

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Andy Warhol: 1928 – 1987

Born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andy Warhol was a painter, printmaker, and filmmaker and a  pivotal figure in the formation of the  Pop Art movement.

Warhol was the son of working-class Slovakian immigrants. His frequent illnesses in childhood often kept him bedridden and at home. During this time, he formed a strong bond with his mother.  It was what he describes an important period in the formation of his personality and skill set.

Warhol studied at the School of Fine Arts at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University), majoring in pictorial design. In 1949, he moved to New York City where he quickly became successful in magazine illustration and advertising, producing work for publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and the The New Yorker.

Much of Warhol’s work the 1950’s was commissioned by fashion houses and he became known for his whimsical ink drawings of I. Miller shoes. In 1952, Warhol’s illustrations for Truman Capote’s writings were exhibited by the Hugo Gallery in New York and he exhibited at several other venues in the 1950′s including a 1956 group show at the Museum of Modern Art. Warhol received several awards during this decade from the Art Director’s Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Warhol was enthralled with Hollywood celebrities, fashion, and style and by the early 1960’s these interests were reflected in his artwork. Borrowing images from popular culture, Warhol’s “Pop Art” paintings were characterized by repetition of everyday objects such as soup cans, Coca Cola bottles, and 100 dollar bills.  He also began painting celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Most of Warhol’s paintings were produced in his studio that he called “The Factory” with the help of assistants. Photographic images were screen-printed on to painted backgrounds and mechanically repeated – a process that mimicked the manufacturing industry and parodied mass consumption. During the Factory years, Warhol associated with and “groomed” a variety of artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrities including Edie Sedgwick, Viva, writer John Giorno, and film-maker Jack Smith.

Warhol worked prolifically in a range of media including painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, and film. Between 1963 and 1968 he produced more than 60 films and about 500 short “screen test” portraits of his studio visitors. His most popular and successful film was Chelsea Girls, made in 1966.

On June 3, 1968, Warhol and art critic/curator Mario Amaya, were shot by Valerie Solanas after she was turned away from the Factory studio. Warhol’s wound was almost fatal and would affect him physically and mentally for the rest of his life.

The 1970’s was a quieter decade for Warhol who concentrated more on portrait commissions for celebrities such as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, and others.  He founded Interview Magazine and in 1975 published “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol” which expressed the idea that “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.” During the 1970’s Warhol was also involved in a number collaborations with young artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente and Keith Haring.

In general, Andy Warhol was consistently ambiguous on the meaning of his work and appeared indifferent and ambivalent. He denied that his artwork carried any social or political commentary.

Warhol died in New York City on February 22, 1987 of a cardiac arrhythmia while recovering from routine gallbladder surgery. In his will, almost his entire estate was dedicated to the “advancement of the visual arts”. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was founded in that same year and it remains one of the largest grant-giving organizations for the visual arts in the United States today.

Sources: MOMA, Guggenheim, National Gallery of Canada, Andy Warhol Foundation, Wikipedia

DAF Group Feature: Vol. 140

This week’s Mixx is a collection of inspirations discovered via one of our favourite Apps – Flipboard – a magazine style app where you are the curator of your content. If you’ve never heard of it – definitely check it out.

Marcel Duchamp: 1887-1968

Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp was born to a family of artists on July 28, 1887, near Blainville, France. Three of his siblings were successful artists and Duchamp was the grandson of painter and engraver Emile Nicolle.

From 1904-05, Duchamp studied painting at the Académie Julian but by his own admission, preferred playing billiards. His early works were influenced by the Post-Impressionist style however in 1911, Duchamp developed his own form of Cubism that combined earthy colours, mechanical forms and the depiction of repetitive images of objects or bodies in motion.  Perhaps the most well known in this style was his 1912 painting “Nude Descending a Staircase” that was shown at the Salon del de la Section d’Or and later created  great controversy at the 1913 Armory Show in New York.

After 1912, Duchamp rarely painted, preferring instead to create his own brand of art which he coined “readymades”.  Readymades were one or more ordinary everyday objects that were slightly altered then signed by the artist. Duchamp’s earliest readymades included “Bicycle Wheel” (a wheel mounted on a wooden stool), a snow shovel called “In Advance of the Broken Arm”, and a urinal titled “Fountain” that he signed “R. Mutt”.   Of his own readymades, Duchamp spoke of how using prefabricated objects freed him from the ‘trap’ of developing a particular style or taste.

In 1915, Duchamp traveled to New York, where he associated with patron and artist Katherine Dreier, and artist Man Ray, with whom he founded the Société Anonyme in 1920, and other avant-garde figures. Between 1915 and 1923, Duchamp created his most complex work “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, (aka The Large Glass)” which was constructed of two panes of glass with materials such as lead foil, fuse wire, and dust.

In 1918, Duchamp took a break from the New York art scene and traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he became fascinated with and played chess for nine months. Duchamp returned to Paris in 1919 and associated with the Dada group. In New York in 1920, he made his first motor-driven constructions and invented Rrose Sélavy, his feminine alter ego.

Duchamp returned to Paris in 1923 and appeared to have abandoned art for chess but did in fact continue his artistic endeavors. From the mid-1930s, he collaborated and exhibited with the Surrealists. In the 1940s, he associated and exhibited with the Surrealists in New York, and in 1946 began “Etant donnés,” a major assemblage piece which he secretly worked on for twenty years.  In 1942, Duchamp settled permanently in New York and became a United States citizen in 1955. In 1954, he married Alexina “Teeny” Duchamp whom he had met in Paris in 1923.

Duchamp’s influence on the art scene was relatively small until the 1950’s when young artists such as Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, seeking something beyond Abstract Expressionism, “discovered” his work. Duchamp gained international public recognition in the 1960’s with his first retrospective exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963, a large exhibit at the Tate Gallery in 1966, and showings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Marcel Duchamp died on October 2, 1968 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, and is buried in the Rouen Cemetery. He is considered by many to be the single most important influence on the formation and direction of Pop Art, Minamalism, and conceptional art of the 1960’s and 70’s. As well, his idea of the “readymade” forever altered our understanding of what constitutes a work of art.

For a complete biography of Marcel Duchamp, see the sources links below.

Sources: MOMA, Guggenheim, Tate Online, Wikipedia, Artchive (images)