An American Odyssey: Romare Bearden

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By Mary Schmidt Campbell

By 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 catalog 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.

Hardcover, 464 pages, 24 pages of 4-color plates, 75 b/w images

Dimensions: 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches

2018 Hooks National Book Award Winner

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.

"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

"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