For this main title, I took inspiration from the contemporaneous collages of Harlem-based artist Romare Bearden to paint a vibrant, sprawling picture of life and crime at the height of the civil rights movement.
The cutting, fragmenting, and reconstruction involved in creating a collage provides apt metaphors for the trauma and violence of war and political oppression, the evisceration of the states quo, and the piecing together of new societal forms.
The collage art of Romare Bearden
I first encountered the collage art of Romare Bearden (1911--1988) during my research for the main title concept pitch. He is best known for his photomontage compositions made from torn images of popular magazines and assembled into visually powerful statements on African-American life. In the mid 60's when Projections debuted, he was influenced by the Civil Rights movement and his work became less abstract and more representational and socially conscious. The Godfather of Harlem main title is an homage to his work during this time period that he witnessed and the show takes place in. It INTENTIONALLY reflects many of the techniques, aesthetics, and themes of Romare Bearden's collages, and the messages and social commentary of his powerful images still speaks to and remains relevant to new audiences today.
I loved the tactile and tangible texture of his collages as well as its ability to present and juxtapose different subjects from multiple sources within a single composition. Purely by coincidence, the Soul of a Nation Exhibition: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983 was touring in Los Angeles around that time, and I was able to personally view Bearden’s art up close. I also read “Harlem Godfather”, the biography of Bumpy Johnson co-written by his wife Mayme Johnson. It helped me get an idea of the character, culture, and landmarks of the city of Harlem, and also get an idea of the type of man Bumpy Johnson was.
It was a pleasure and honor to work on this project and give tribute to the fighters and activists of the past who fought for their American Dream, by any means necessary. As a minority as well as a child of immigrants, many of the societal issues and themes explored within Godfather of Harlem resonates with me. History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Whether it is equal rights, income inequality, racism, or drugs—to name a few—the show reveals how similar and relevant these issues remain to this day. It reminds us that the fight for the American Dream is an ongoing struggle, and each new generation has a obligation to bring forth positive change.
In this unused alternate concept, I drew inspiration from chess—a passion of Bumpy Johnson’s—to symbolize the power struggle for control on the streets of Harlem and the bigger social struggles of the era. Using a hand-drawn textural approach, we utilize black and white monochromatism to create a stark yet dynamic representation of the show’s themes.