In 1964, after three decades of living and working in Harlem, Bearden took up collage, cutting and combining found images and photographs to achieve new combinations defined by their fragmentation, texture, and layered depth. He used this approach to capture the complex facets of Black experience in the United States, often depicting scenes from everyday life in the rural South, which many African Americans left to move to northern cities during the Great Migration (1916–70), and scenes from Harlem. Throughout his career, Bearden reworked his own images in different mediums, including this collage, which is shown alongside a later photo reproduction.
Gallery label from 2022
Bearden's approach to art making centered on fragmentation and recombination; he created richly textured collages depicting scenes of African American life using painted paper, photographs from magazines, newspaper, pieces of cloth, and other materials. His process was inspired by the improvisational and rhythmic elements of jazz; “In many ways it’s like putting a symphony together, or a piece of music,” he explained. In addition to collages, he made watercolors, photomontages, and prints. Train Whistle Blue No. 1 began as a collage that Bearden then photocopied in black and white and enlarged using a photostat machine. This innovative technique, which flattened the layers of his collage into a graphic image reminiscent of a film still, established Bearden as a leading contemporary artist.
Gallery label from Studio Visit: Selected Gifts from Agnes Gund, 2018