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Born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, Romare Bearden grew up in Harlem, where his parents’ home was a gathering place for the writers, musicians, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance. After graduating from New York University in 1935 with a degree in education, Bearden attended the Arts Students League in New York. He soon became a leading member of the Harlem and downtown art communities, and achieved success as an artist, songwriter, and author of books and articles on art history and aesthetic theory. During the Second World War, Bearden served with the all-black 372nd Infantry Regiment, and his awareness of the way that black soldiers were treated compared to white soldiers led him to conclude, “I cannot divorce myself from the inequities that are around me.” After the war, Bearden traveled to Paris on the GI Bill and met Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, and Constantin Brancusi.
In the early 1960s, Bearden began to host gatherings of a group of black artists interested in engaging with the Civil Rights movement. They called themselves the “Spiral Group,” a name that symbolized a starting point that would move outward in all directions. While Bearden’s earlier work had been abstract, he now began a series of representational collages based on the black experience. Collage—the unexpected juxtaposition of disparate materials, including cut paper, magazine cutouts, and photographs—-became his principal method. For Bearden, the process of overlapping unrelated images into a unified whole offered a way to synthesize culturally and historically different images into universal statements—to record the struggles and triumphs of African-American life while simultaneously portraying archetypal rituals and myths common to all peoples. In his late work, Bearden returned to painting, combining it with his collage technique to convey his memories of Mecklenburg County and the rituals of African-American life.
Claude Marks. World Artists 1950-1980: An H. W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary. (New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1984), 64.