Famous artist debuts at Reynolda House

On Friday afternoon I had the privilege of getting a sneak peek of Romare Bearden’s art exhibit, “A Black Odyssey,” at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

Believe it or not, Winston-Salem was chosen as the national debut location for this captivating art exhibit that hails from the Smithsonian. The exhibit will reside in the Reynolda House until January 13.

Photo courtesy of picassomio.com

Romare Bearden was a famous and talented artist, involved in the Harlem Renaissance. Created in the 1970s, “A Black Odyssey” is composed of three different, yet very much connected, series of art types.

It begins with a series of collages and then moves to water colors. The exhibit ends in black and white drawings. Beginning with the collages was genius in my opinion. These bold colored collages are filled with blues, oranges, and greens and can be easily interpreted by the viewer. As you travel through the exhibit, the level of abstraction escalates.

From the simpler collages, Bearden shifts to water colors. The watercolor paintings focus on the element of water and are predominantly blue and green. Bearden’s style and focus shift yet again when the drawings are reached. The drawings are done with a charcoal color on a white background. His drawings are much more abstract and therefore difficult to depict. Bearden’s ability to mesh several different styles of art into one exhibit emphasizes his true artistic talent. The subject of the exhibit is just as you were probably thinking: The Odyssey by Homer. You more than likely read (or pretended to read) it in high school.

For those of you that never read it or have forgotten the story of The Odyssey, I will give you the one sentence synopsis. This Greek epic poem is about a guy named Odysseus who is on a 10 year journey home after the Trojan War.

So here’s a question. Why would Romare Bearden depict scenes from a Greek epic poem from thousands and thousands of years ago? Bearden felt that something was missing from this tale of Odysseus on his journey home.

He lived during a time of racial discrimination and segregation. Therefore, he decided to depict scenes from The Odyssey in a new way so that his art would be felt and understood by all. He made the characters in the art black.

By doing this, the viewer of the art feels a sense of universality that it could be anyone on this journey. This provided a sense of inclusion and strength for those being discriminated against at the time.

Bearden picked The Odyssey as the subject of his art to relay these cultural messages because it is truly the first story that contemporary society is still able to relate to. We are all on our own personal journeys. Though Odysseys’ journey is home, a journey is a journey.  Perhaps you are on an academic journey or on a journey to becoming a better person or a more fit person.

No matter the journey, there will be obstacles, small victories, and eventually you will hopefully achieve your goal — or in Odysseus’ case, you will make it home. Bearden wanted to make sure that this universal message was received by everyone no matter their gender, race, age or religion.

“A Black Odyssey” is a beautiful and inspiring art exhibit that I highly recommend visiting. Wake Forest is the main sponsor in getting the exhibit to Winston-Salem. Just a reminder: all students get in free, and it will be here until Jan. 13.

  • Heather

    Thanks for the review! The Smithsonian is REALLY proud of this show!