The Block

Artist: Romare Bearden (American, Charlotte, North Carolina 1911–1988 New York)

Date: 1971

Medium: Cut and pasted printed, colored and metallic papers, photostats, graphite, ink marker, gouache, watercolor, and ink on Masonite

Dimensions: 48 x 216 in. (121.9 x 548.6 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Shore, 1978

Accession Number: 1978.61.1-.6

Rights and Reproduction: Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY


"The Block" is a tribute to Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City that nurtured both the life and work of artist Romare Bearden. Although he was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden spent part of each year in New York throughout his childhood. In 1940 he established his first studio in Harlem, at 306 West 125th Street, in the same building as the artist Jacob Lawrence and the poet­novelist Claude McKay. During the 1940s Bearden was active in the Harlem cultural community as part of the informal artists' organization known as the 306 Group and as a member of the Harlem Artists Guild.

Each of the six panels of "The Block" presents an aspect of life in Harlem, depicting such neighborhood institutions as the Evangelical church, the barbershop, and the corner grocery store. Bearden took artistic license in revealing the private moments of tenement life as well as the exuberant humanity that existed in the prototypical city block. His concern with social issues reflects the influence of the German artist George Grosz, with whom Bearden had studied at the Art Students League in the 1930s. The "Cubist" character of Bearden's cut-paper collage, a technique with which he is associated, resulted from formal experimentation, the documentary impulse of Dadaist photomontage, and Bearden's own modern vision, which matured during the 1940s and 1950s.

The original installation of this work included a tape recording of street sounds to enhance the viewer's visual experience of the work, but even without this accompaniment the vitality of the scene is palpable.