|THE COMMONPLACE – UNCOMMONLY
Romare Bearden -- Summertime (1967)
Richard Estes -- Central Savings (1975)
Certainly one of the most compelling reasons for looking at art is the opportunity it gives us to experience other
views of the world. Through the artist's vision, we are encouraged to see things in a different way -- and we are
often asked to notice what we might otherwise overlook. Even the most ordinary objects and events can be
transformed by the artist into subjects that capture our attention and imaginations.
Contemporary African American artist Romare Bearden created wonderful and unique paintings filled with images of
what he knew and loved best: rural life in the deep South where he was born; jazz musicians at the Apollo Theatre
in Harlem where he grew up; trains; country preachers; city neighborhoods; and the faces of his friends and
neighbors -- most striking of all -- which look openly at us from his canvases. Bearden chose specifically to
chronicle the lives of black people living in America -- often portraying commonplace events and scenes -- but
hoped that the underlying joys and struggles would touch all people. The materials Bearden used in his work --
also borrowed, in a sense, from the commonplace -- are not the "typical" materials of a painter: magazine
photographs, newspapers, fabric, and bits of paper saturated with color are the elements of his compositions which
Bearden cut, tore and juxtaposed to create visually and emotionally powerful collages, turning the commonplace
into something monumental and timeless.
The commonplace is also the subject matter of works by Photorealist Richard Estes. Predominantly urban images --
storefronts and city streets, for example -- they are the epitome of ordinariness. But Estes' pictures make the
viewer do a double-take: at first glance, these minutely detailed, sharply focused pieces look like oversized
photographs; the realization that they are actually paint on canvas comes as a pleasant shock. There is something
truly engaging about scrutinizing his tightly packed canvases to find the familiar trappings of contemporary life.
Even the glow of a neon sign, reflections in a plate glass window, or a crushed cigarette on the sidewalk are causes
for wonder: how absolutely "real" Estes has made everything appear!
Bearden and Estes have each, in his own way, succeeded in translating familiar scenes and events into
thought-provoking, highly involving works of art. We examine the unique results of their techniques in this session