Collection of the Artist
Abe Taube, Brighton, Massachusetts
Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York
Private collection, Pennsylvania
Melon Season, 1967, paper collage on canvas, 56 x 44 inches, signed upper right. Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York
The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa Museum of Art, Florida; Newark Museum, New Jersey, Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections, September 2, 2011–January 8, 2011; January 28–May 6, 2012; May 23–August 26, 2012
Carla M. Hanzal, et al., Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections (Charlotte, North Carolina: The Mint Museum, 2011), 93.
Poised between modernity and the iconic, Untitled (Melon Season) brims with the dual consciousness Romare Bearden explored through his art and life. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden grew up in Manhattan, where frequent visitors to the family home included Duke Ellington (a future patron), Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller, and the illustrious Langston Hughes. Perhaps inspired by these luminaries, Bearden ventured into the world of art during his years at New York University and Boston University, where he provided illustrations for magazines such as The Medley and Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life. He later studied at the Art Students League under the German artist George Grosz, whom he credited with activating his artistic self-realization.
Bearden tried nearly every means of expression available between 1930 and 1960, moving from abstraction to representation, from pen to paintbrush. In 1963 he happened upon the medium that led to his almost instantaneous critical success: collage. Yearning for a fresh, collaborative art form, Bearden suggested that members of Spiral, a group formed to promote black artists, create a composition of arranged magazine cutouts. While the project never materialized, Bearden nevertheless recognized the potential of the medium and in the ensuing years shaped it to realize his artistic goals.
Untitled (Melon Season) is an intimate collage that portrays two stately figures.The anonymous subjects dominate the available space yet contract into flat, abstract forms—an effect produced by their patchwork clothing of converging lines and patterns. Their one-dimensional monumentality recalls the tradition of Byzantine icons in which Mary and the Christ Child crowd the throne of heaven, their penetrating gazes and forms unmoving and unyielding to the surrounding environment. References to the aesthetics of African masks may also be found. The composite facial features of the figures relate to the geometric shapes of traditional African art forms. The standing woman in particular exhibits these qualities, as the uniform color of the upper register flattens her face, revealing her stylized eyes and nose.
Bearden reconfigured these canonical modes of representation to convey the present-day culture of two African Americans.Within a landscape likely inspired by North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County, signs of relative modernity surround the figures, including a metal windmill and a small house that boasts an electric red fireplace and standardized siding. Riotous strips of scarlet, olive, and lavender weave throughout, liberating color from representation, a hallmark of modern abstraction. These hues call attention to the medium itself, highlighting the seams that join each piece of manipulated paper. Slices of construction paper were torn, cut, and rejoined with images from popular magazines to form a cohesive whole.
The dual nature of Untitled (Melon Season) is central to the meaning of the collage. Bearden admittedly searched for styles that would make his contemporary subject matter “timeless and historically durable.” His unique combination of art-historical precedents, twentieth-century black culture, abstraction, and modern materials makes his subject both contemporary and traditional. This unexpected juxtaposition implies that the subject matter enjoys a historic existence parallel to other widely accepted customs. The title of the collage furthers this connotation, as it implies annual renewal and natural continuity. Through these devices, Bearden could “acknowledge the significance of the art-historical past even as he revised its forms to accommodate new representations of African American identity.” Untitled (Melon Season) establishes the history of a silenced ritual, reinserting it into both traditional and modern narratives of American life.
Romare Bearden coauthored a number of books, including The Painter’s Mind: A Study of the Relations of Structure and Space in Painting (1969) and A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present (1993). A Bearden retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1971. Recent exhibitions of his work appeared at the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina; and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. His work may be seen at major American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Modern Museum of Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Philadelphia Museum of Art.
. Romare Bearden, interview by Henri Ghent, June 29, 1968, transcript, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/bearde68.htm.