Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery

at Fairfield University

Fairfield, CT

203.254.4000 ext. 2969


Musical and Poetic Interludes: Multi-Media Work by 20th Century Afro-American 'Spiral' Group Artists Romare Bearden and Richard Mayhew


"Musical and Poetic Interludes: Multi-Media Work by 20th Century Afro-American 'Spiral' Group Artists Romare Bearden and Richard Mayhew" was on display at the Thomas T. Walsh Art Gallery, located in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on the campus of Fairfield University, January 23-February 25, 1999.

Poetic splashes of intense color and a rhythmic sense of line could be seen everywhere in this exhibit which served to recall the politically charged eras of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s as viewed through the eyes of Harlem's "Spiral" group.

"The socially conscious narratives of Romare Bearden, Richard Mayhew, Faith Ringgold, Benny Andrews and Barkley Hendricks are filled with drama and symphonic images," commented Dr. Diana Mille, director of the Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery. "Through their courage, determination, artistry and generosity of spirit they brought to life works that continue to inspire us, encouraging us to refuse to accept assigned roles and to live a life of creative daring."

Bearden's first collages and photomontages date from the civil rights era. He was deeply committed to his community as a member of the Harlem Artists' Guild, a founder of the Harlem Community Arts Center and a full-time case worker for the New York City Department of Welfare.

While Bearden's collages incorporated the raw materials of the "black experience" and the frontality inherited from African sculpture, the collages also convey universality in their cubist form and process. Bearden never intended his works to be read as examples of purely "black art." He believed, instead, that the patterns of one culture always related to another.

Author Ralph Ellison wrote of Bearden's collages, "His combination of technique is in itself eloquent of the sharp breaks, leaps of consciousness, distortions, paradoxes, reversals, telescoping of time and surreal blending of styles, values and hopes and dreams which characterizes much of Negro American history. Through an act of creative will, he has blended strange visual harmonies out of the shrill, indigenous dichotomies of American life and in doing so reflected the irrepressible thrust of a people to endure and keep its intimate sense of its own identity."

In the 1950s, the GI bill provided Bearden with the opportunity to study at the Sorbonne. It was in Paris that the artist began his songwriting career - including over 20 pieces of music, some written for Billy Holiday - with Billy Eckstein and Dizzy Gillespie. The big hit for Bearden was "Sea Breeze" recorded by Gillespie.

Bearden first glimpsed the musical greats - Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Benny Goodman - at the ballroom of the Savoy in New York. From the jazz creations of these musicians he learned how to incorporate color, interval and rhythm, and spontaneity into his paintings.

Close friends to Bearden, Faith Ringgold and Barkley Andrews and fellow "Spiral" group member Richard Mayhew will also have their work on display. Andrews conjures the spirit of the 1950s with powerful textual designs, colors and spaces.

Ringgold explores the broader art historical movements of pluralism and feminism with "quilts of stitched canvases. From her beginnings in the 1960s, Ringgold dedicated herself to the deconstruction of prejudices regarding gender, craft and the avant-garde.

Hendricks reflects the 70s retrospective, the mystery and ambiguity behind the person isolated from his environment. Mayhew takes viewers into the 1990s with his poetic and magical landscapes.

From top to bottom: Richard Mayhew, Spiritual Transition, 1997, oil on canvas, 60 x 64 inches; Barkley Andrews, Misc. Tyrone, 1976, acrylic, oil and magna on canvas, 72 x 50 inches; Romare Bearden, Mecklenburg Autumn, n.d., lithograph, 120/175, 27 x 21 inches; Faith Ringgold, Subway Graffiti 2, 1987, acrylic on canvas with pieced, dyed and painted fabric border, 60 x 84 inches; Benny Andrews, Two Women, 1978, oil and colage on canvas, 50 x 50 inches

Gallery hours: Tues.- Sat. 11 - 5, Sun. noon - 4.

Read more in Resource Library about the Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery at Fairfield University.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 9/20/10

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