Visual Voice

The WFMA celebrates the artist’s visual voice by exploring artworks from multiple view points.

Black History Month 2021

In February, the Museum celebrates Black History Month. Throughout the month, we will showcase artworks by Black artists in the Permanent Collection, on view in the galleries through February 20. Learn about these accomplished artists and their works, and then see their art in person.

Please note:
Because of the snow storm closure during the last week of the exhibition Color in Art, Color in Life, we will display these artworks in the Museum’s lobby through the end of February, so you can see them in person! Look for an upcoming feature on Romare Bearden’s print In the Garden, and click the link at the bottom of this page to see previous features works by Margo Humphrey and Ron Adams.

Color and Story

by Cammie Dean, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and
Director, MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center, Midwestern State University

Sometimes heritage is reflected in symbols and objects that clearly connect to a historic land or culture; other times it is the colors that tell the story. Throughout western and southern Africa, in the countries of origin of many victims of the slave trade, woven fabrics of rich colors and complex patterns are incorporated in both daily life and ceremonial occasions. Kente cloth, originating in what is now western Ghana, is probably the most commonly recognized; its bright shades of orange, red, blue and green bring to mind village paths and city streets throughout Africa. One can almost hear the rhythm of music in the background.  During both the Civil Rights Movement and the Harlem Renaissance, African American artists intentionally embraced the colors and imagery of African heritage, but in every era, even today, African heritage can be evident in art.

About In the Garden

This colorful representation of a lady in her garden appears simple, as an image and in content. Bearden, one of the more renowned artists of the Harlem Renaissance, studied art and education at universities in the northeastern US. For some, it can be hard to reconcile the way a sophisticated and skilled artist may choose to produce works resembling folk art. His work here resembles, perhaps, a patchwork or applique quilt.  But, is there a message that can only be conveyed in this way?

In the Garden

Museum purchase, 1980

In an exhibition essay quoted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Romare Bearden states his aim was to paint “…the life of my people as I know it, passionately and dispassionately as Breughel. My intention is to reveal through pictorial complexities the life I know.”

Romare Bearden from “Romare Bearden, The Human Condition” (New York: ACA Galleries, 1991), 2; quoted on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website.

Bearden Resources Online

Bearden Teaching Packet from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

National Gallery of Art

Romare Bearden Foundation

DC Moore Gallery

Director’s Exhibition Tour

In this print, I see a woman with deep black skin standing in her garden, stopping to wave to a passerby or, perhaps, to give praise, the fingers of her right hand poised in such a way that they appear to move. In the background I see a house and chimney, dense dark green trees, and a purple mountain or sky. In the middle ground I see a red structure that looks like a barn, a bird perched on a leaf, and a fence.

The woman wears a yellow sun hat and a bright red checked skirt and blouse with a sash tied around her waist. She stands amid flowers and leafy plants. She holds a bowl or pot filled with orange leafed plants. Her feet are turned sideways in the way ancient Egyptian artists depicted human figures. The bird stares up at her.

The figure’s neck is detached from her body; the purple sky shows through between her neck and blouse. The whole print has the feel of collage, with flat separate shapes layered on top of each other, making the figure look like a paper doll. Yet, nowhere else in the composition does the artist leave a gap between the pieces. Why did he do this here?

The woman’s head is tilted and her eyes are downcast as in prayer. Her mouth is relaxed, lips slightly parted. Her arm and hand are raised high above her head. When I mimic her posture, I feel as if I am taking in a breath of wonder or letting out a sigh of gratitude.

Further, the woman’s yellow hat with red ribbon pops against a purple background. Yellow and purple are complimentary colors, opposite each other on the color wheel. This means when they are placed next to each other, they make the other more powerful.

With these visual devices or “pictorial complexities” as Bearden calls them, the artist draws our attention to the woman’s torso as she cradles bounty and raises her hand to another being, and then, more closely to her face in its expression of grace.

Tracee Robertson, 2021

Installation view 2021

Artist’s Biography

Romare Bearden, an African-American artist and writer, is renowned for his collages and photomontages a technique he began to experiment with in 1950s, establishing his reputation as a leading contemporary artist. Bearden’s work reflects his improvisational approach to his practice. He considered his process akin to that of jazz and blues composers. Starting with an open mind, he would let an idea evolve spontaneously. “You have to begin somewhere,” he once said, “so you put something down. Then you put something else with it, and then you see how that works, and maybe you try something else and so on, and the picture grows in that way.” Bearden’s approach was intuitive, an ongoing dialogue between tradition and innovation.

Bearden studied art in New York during the 1930s, asking in an important essay that African American artists give voice to their own distinctive experiences. Gaining recognition during the 1940s and achieving international status by the 1960s, he made his memories of life in the South and in Harlem the basis of his art. His art and that of Lawrence parallel the spirit of American Scene Painting, which in the 1930s recorded and commemorated regional identities, most especially that of the Midwest. In the 1960s, Bearden experimented with a variety of collage techniques that became his signature medium. His later style captures the syncopation and liveliness of American jazz, playing upon caricature and the fragmentation of forms associated with Cubism.

In the Garden from the Permanent Collection of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas