Romare Bearden updates the traditional theme of human intimacy and treats it in terms of black American experience. Bearden's arrangement of curving and angular forms visually suggests the rhythms and syncopation of jazz–an original American idiom that comes out of African American culture. His composition of colors and shapes, influenced by Cubist collage, also adds other dimensions to his story.
The seated gentleman appears to have paused in his serenade: a musical tribute from a lover to his sweetheart. One of his hands rests momentarily on the strings of a guitar while he begins to place his other hand on the woman's shoulder in a tentative embrace. Her oversized index finger points to the guitar, in intimate proximity to the man's large hand. Notice how Bearden punctuates his composition with bright yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue colors. They emphasize the man's cap, guitar, the bench the woman sits on, and the red drop-earring she wears, and the man's left hand that rests on her shoulder. Bearden uses color to center our attention on the figures and draw them together. Photographic fragments of eyes and mouth give the woman a psychological immediacy. These heightened details draw our attention to her private thoughts and to her connection with us.
He might be pursing his lips in an approaching kiss. Perhaps she smiles at the prospect. Her distracted attention and pointing finger, however, suggest complex feelings. Bearden's Cubist uncertainties of form mirror the emotional ambiguities of the bond between the man and the woman. We take pleasure in exploring the many facets of their relationship. Yet Bearden's interlocking forms and blue shapes surrounding the couple work together to visualize what is finally an intimate and loving whole.
Romare Bearden, Serenade, 1969, collage and paint on panel, 45 3/4 x 32 1/2 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase, through National Endowment for the Arts grant with matching funds from Madison Art Center members. 73.0.24 © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
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Romare Bearden. © Marvin E. Newman. Courtesy of Romare Bearden Foundation.