Comparatives: Romare Bearden, The Roots, and Collaged Black Aesthetics

4 min readMay 13, 2019
Comparatives: Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memory, The Roots — …and then you shoot your cousin, 2014

Romare Bearden’s Pittsburgh Memory is a reflection of his childhood in the 1930s-1940s living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While he was there he met a friend who would later teach him art.

Bearden’s primary medium was a mixture of paper collage and painting techniques. Cutting images out of Ebony, Jet, and Life magazines, and color paper, he documented the multifaceted nature of black life.

His artistic practices would include listening to jazz and blues music that he related to his art. He has done artwork for Donald Byrd for his 1978 album “Thank You for Funking Up My Life.

Throughout his career, he faced scrutiny by the art-world while he was especially thriving during the Abstract Expressionism movement. African-American artists who were Abstract Expressionists did not receive proper recognition for their work.

Abstract Expressionist art is non-representational artwork focused on how the painter makes lines and shapes. These paintings can be carefully planned known as gestural paintings or action paintings. They can be large in scale, also as sculptures. The purpose is this movement was to say that art is a spontaneous act of the unconscious mind.

Most African American artists at the time were portraying black life through paintings or photography, which directly involves the black subject.

Artists like Bearden were experimenting with the constructs of blackness through form, shape, and abstraction, to push the black image forward.

Spiral was a collective of black artists founded in 1963. Their art was an abstract expressionist response to the Civil Rights Movement. Not much is out there on the groups existence but their work was the first formation of a black artists collective for communal and social change. Their influence had lead to what is known as a discourse on a black aesthetic, which has been seen in future black art movements. — from Afrovisualism on Instagram

With like-minded black artists such as Norman Lewis, Emma Amos, and Alvin Hollingsworth, they created Spiral, a collective dedicated to recognizing black artists and furthering their careers.

I suggest that Western society, and particularly that of America, is gravely ill and a major symptom is the American treatment of the Negro. The artistic expression of this culture concentrates on themes of “absurdity” and “anti-art” which provide further evidence of its ill health. It is the right of everyone now to re-examine history to see if Western culture offers the only solutions to man’s purpose on this earth. — Romare Bearden, “Why Spiral?” by Jeanne Siegel

The Roots are a hip-hop group and band founded in 1987 from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania led by drummer Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson and emcee Tariq ‘Black Thought’ Trotter.

In the late 80s and early 90s, hip-hop was changing. Hip-hop based publications were forming, thus giving hip-hop more media coverage.

Sonically and socially conscious, The Roots purpose as a group was intentional, to be the complete opposite of what gangsta rap (that was dominating the airwaves at the time) was playing itself into. After having two albums under their belt by the time, the 1995 Source Awards happened, Questlove’s response was,

“None of us were the same after that day. I feel like the true underground lost its oxygen that night. — Questlove: 15 Years, Pitchfork Interview

Questlove’s outspoken critique of hip-hop culture, each album sums up the current state of hip-hop in different stages.

Maintaining their status as a group AND a band over the years, they have stood their ground as a group, played for many hip-hop acts, critics of the culture, and bringing quality bars for over 20 years.

The title of the 2014 album …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is a reference to a line in KRS-ONE’s 1997 Step Into The World (Rapture’s Delight), referring to the company certain rappers keep that unfortunately resorts to gun violence.

Hopefully you’ll get something new from it every time you listen to it, you’ll hone in on something different. It’s short enough to do that, to take in, to digest in one sitting…There’s very many layers to this record, but it doesn’t take place over very much time.” Black Thought, Hip-Hop DX Interview

The album gives insight into their sentiments on the state of the industry. Deciding to take a more experimental approach this is their shortest and most conceptual album to date.

From The Roots perspective, hip-hop lost its soul to appeal to the masses. It makes sense why Bearden’s artwork was chosen.

Bearden’s collage style encompasses past experiences about his life growing up in Pennsylvania, just like The Roots. Bearden’s art is inspired by jazz and black experiences and has been compared to the visual and sound aesthetics of jazz music. The Roots are a hip-hop group, since hip-hop was inspired by the lived experiences of black people through the the appropriation of sampling and collaborative musical atmosphere like jazz.

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The originator of Black Aesthetic Continual Theory. Crate-digging for samples & links. Moodboarding on the decks.