Romare Bearden & Charles White
& the Black Expression
Growing Pains : Today my pain is like birth of first born/ slight hum of muscle and sweat, that sings a mighty song of pain/ it come to me as a new day/ it stretches across my eyes swollen cause I knew this day was near/ slowly I wake thinking of Autumn leaves under our feet crisp like the air we breathe/ now like then your eyes wide and full/ energy that cannot be explained/ and in a distance I hear a mighty song of muscle, sweat and pain/ we done gathered round sweet smell of chickens (from the yard)/ we done gathered round makin’ sounds of (holdin’) horns/ guitars and Auntie Georgia sing (like Millie)/ I am all the pain of Springtime, that springtime brings/ everything blooming have you seen it?/ Lord the stories in our hands and feet, on our backs and shoulders/ my mind takes me to fuss fights and serious talks/ my ears hear in a distance that humming of sweat muscle and pain/ cause now you a man leaving/…leaving in the footsteps of Jesus, Culver, Malcolm, Martin, Ali, Young, Thomas, Goines, Marley/ leaving in the footsteps of Solomon, Zulu, Green and 2Pac/ you are leaving with roots that are more envious than stars/ and oh how heavy they are/my heart sings like our mothers before me/ when we left the south riding muscle sweat and pains/ chuck-a-chuck-a-chuck-a-chuck-a north/ to be closer to that star/ trying to get far.
Growing Pains is a poem written for my son in 2005 when he turned eighteen, inspired by a Romare Bearden photomontage. What I didn’t know then, that I do know now from watching the film Praise Song and lectures from Professor Chatman is the symbolism that called out to me from Bearden’s works was suppose to have spoken to me, that is, it wasn’t be accident that certain things stuck out, like the chickens and trains. The film calls Bearden and Charles White, “Griots of Imagery”, storytellers with deep understanding of culture.
Charles White born in 1918 Chicago, was extraordinary at age seven. White’s artwork to me captures deeply personal emotions of the black expressions and experiences. White’s mastery to capture the blues and its poetic suffering is astounding! The facial expressions, body language, it was said of White’s drawings and works are stroked as Langston Hughes writes. There is a social realism in White’s work to me that are more personal than Bearden’s, only meaning White’s subjects are more singular, concentrating on one person connecting to the community than vice versa.
Both artists honor “the black woman” in their works. They honor her in her every truth, as mother, worker, healer, and lover and in her joys, in worship and pain.
Romare Bearden born 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina and raised in New York, and like White started at art young. More than Bearden’s watercolors and drawings, I am a fan of his later work of photomontage and colleagues which speaks volume to me. I’ve written at least twenty poems to Bearden’s work. This genre artist has a way of connecting the viewer with black life whether city or country life and the life of the black musicians. Like White with the Blues, Bearden expression of Jazz, the feelings and improvosions are magical. To me if you look at a Bearden piece well enuf you could almost hear the music! The film spoke of Bearden’s lines, his mastery of forms, balance and design shown fervently in his earlier drawings, Bearden’s common or central theme was of life, black life prevailing.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said and I do agree, that Art (and I say no matter the form) remains the one way possible in speaking the truth. Both Romare Bearden and Charles White proved through their artistry that they are Griots of Imagery.