Having grown up during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Romare Bearden devoted his life and art to redefining, as he said, "the image of man in terms of the Negro experience I know best." After painting as a Social Realist in the 1930s and 1940s, and then in a mode derived from Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s, Bearden ultimately found his own voice in the imaginative collages he made from 1964 on. Using a fragmented style inspired by the rhythms of jazz, he assembled magazine clippings into phantasmagorical invocations of the myths and rituals of black American life.
Bearden did not take up printmaking seriously until the late 1960s, when he began to frequent the Printmaking Workshop, a non-profit studio run by his longtime friend, the artist and master printer Robert Blackburn. Over the next two decades he worked there and with other publishers and printers, eventually completing more than one hundred editioned prints in various techniques, as well as dozens of monotypes. Many of Bearden's prints, particularly his lithographs and screenprints, are based on existing collages and monotypes.
With Blackburn's encouragement he also made some experimental collagraphs and intaglio prints that engage the collage process and printmaking in unusual and inventive ways. In The Train, for example, he recast a 1964 collage by adding new textures and colors. This was achieved by using mesh screens and photography to generate the photogravure plate, which was subsequently cut up so colored areas could be inked separately and reassembled jigsaw style for printing.
The train of this print's title is a small detail at the upper left, but it nonetheless invokes larger issues of migration and segregation. As Bearden said, trains "could take you away and could also bring you to where you were. And in the little towns it's the black people who live near the trains."
Publication excerpt from an essay by Starr Figura, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 221.