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Tony Norman: Romare Bearden’s work is like looking into the face of a dear friend

Tony Norman: Romare Bearden’s work is like looking into the face of a dear friend

On Sunday, a talented and well-established fellow traveler left town after a leisurely visit. “Romare Bearden: Artist as Activist and Visionary,” a retrospective on the late, great artist’s work, occupied a mid-sized wing of the Frick Pittsburgh in Point Breeze for four-and-a-half months. Though steeped in the compositional strategies of American and European modernism, Bearden’s work is usually specific about the toil, trouble and triumph of the 20th-century African-American experience. Gazing at Bearden’s paintings, lithographs and mixed media canvases is like looking into the face of a dear friend still capable of singing the blues and the old prison work songs with gusto. There’s a jazziness to everything Bearden ever created. Though primarily a painter, Bearden was a historian on the canvas who saw parallels between The Great Migration and other voluntary and forced relocations throughout American and world history.