African American Artists during the Twentieth Century
Romare Bearden, Patchwork Quilt. (1970). Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY
During the early 1960s Romare Bearden began to shift his artistic practice from one that was focused on painting and illustration to accommodate an increasing interest in working with collage. Characterized by the cutting, repositioning, and pasting of various materials including photographs from magazines, colored paper, and fabric in specific arrangements on a material support in order to create new compositions, collage is a method of artistic abstraction that was formally developed in the early twentieth century by artists like Matisse and Picasso. Bearden was one of the first African American artists to work primarily in collage and to utilize the method to examine aspects of black life and culture. He accomplished this while concurrently using the visual language of avant garde abstraction and a recognizable African American aesthetic. This black aesthetic is witnessed in the arrangement of fabric that gives Patchwork Quilt its title. Here, the small swatches of printed cotton fabric are placed in a seemingly random pattern above the figure of a prone woman, recalling African American quilting traditions developed under slavery, which continued following emancipation and Reconstruction.