Manhattan Suite, 1975
Collage and mixed media on board
24 x 18 inches
Signed upper right, signed title and dates on verso
Born to educated, middle class parents in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden and his family migrated to New York City around 1914 to escape the South’s oppressive Jim Crow laws. From an early age, Bearden was exposed to a variety of creative and cultural pursuits as well as to the importance of civic involvement and social activism. As a mature artist Bearden mined his experiences as an African American. Collage proved to be an excellent medium for him, as it allowed for incongruous pairings of images that brilliantly spoke to the complexities of African American personhood.
Manhattan Suite is one of a number of collages Bearden did of the city––a subject whose complexity he never tired of. The high-keyed palette lends an almost otherworldly feeling to vignettes that are very much grounded in urban reality. Bearden constructs the image as if the viewer is peering into the windows of an apartment building, but the scenes the viewer witnesses are disorienting and troubling. It is as if Bearden has peeled away the façade of the tenement to expose its underbelly. Bearden passes no judgment: He presents the scenes rawly, inviting thought, even provocation, but the prevailing feeling is one of honesty not scorn.