Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1914, Romare Bearden spent two or three years in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville with his maternal grandparents, who raised him from the age of seven until he rejoined his parents in New York. Bearden often returned in the summers to both Charlotte and Pittsburgh, and he lived more or less constantly in Pittsburgh's East Liberty community before graduating from Peabody High School in 1929. After then Bearden lived in Harlem except for a stint in the army and four years in Paris from 1950 to 1954.
ln the early 1940s Bearden's work reflected the Social Realist style then dominant in this country, but through most of the next decade he painted abstractly. In 1963, however, he joined Spiral, a group of artists devoted specifically to black subjects, and at about the same time he returned to figuration and took up the art of collage as his primary medium of expression. Over the next decade Bearden depicted life in the streets of Harlem in a fractured, jazzy, sometimes frenetic style that owed something to both Cubism and African art. Sometimes he turned as well to the steel mills he knew from his childhood in Pittsburgh, but his generalized treatment of these scenes was never recognizable as autobiography. In the late 1970s, however, Bearden began to focus on his own memories; as he did so his style became more direct, and he returned in part to the representational mode of his early years as an artist.