An American Odyssey by Mary Schmidt Campbell

Staff Pick

“As a graduate student…I sent [Romare Bearden] questions,” Mary Schmidt Campbell notes in An American Odyssey (Oxford, $34.95), her masterful study of Bearden’s life and work. She includes a facsimile of the handwritten letters he sent back—adding a collagist flourish to her heartfelt and thorough book. Known primarily for his work as a collage artist, Bearden (1911-1988) started as a political cartoonist, moved into social realism, abandoned the figurative for the abstract, then returned to the figure. He was also a writer and collaborated with a pantheon of other artists  on dances, music, and plays. These different endeavors reflect Bearden’s ongoing struggle with questions about the responsibilities of black artists. If in 1934 he believed that "authentic art comes from a connection to the world as it is lived and experienced by people in their everyday lives,” by 1946 he was more influenced by the European modernists than by the Mexican muralists. Campbell is skilled at reading the visual vocabulary of popular culture and she puts Bearden’s work within the larger frame of ads, posters, postcards, photos, films, and TV. Her story of Bearden is also the story of “American visual politics” as a battlefield where “representation [of the black body] was a matter of life and death, not just art."

An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden By Mary Schmidt Campbell Cover Image
ISBN: 9780195059090
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Oxford University Press, USA - September 5th, 2018