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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Colin Gravois Remembers Beauford

Colin Gravois has lived in Paris / Ile de France since 1968. He met Beauford when Beauford lived on rue Vercingétorix, and has very fond memories of him. Colin spoke at the gravesite ceremony that Les Amis held at Thiais Cemetery on October 14th. He recently recounted his memories of Beauford in an interview at his office in Antony (a suburb located south of Paris).

Colin Gravois at Beauford’s Graveside Commemoration Ceremony
© Franz Fox Kennedy

Upon arriving in Paris, Colin lived for five years at the Hôtel de Blois at 50, rue Vavin, which was located very near the café Select on boulevard du Montparnasse. (The hotel was a functioning brothel when Colin lived there, with the first three floors being used for "business" and the three upper floors being reserved for long-term residents.) He recalls that the rent was only 10 francs a day – roughly $2 in those times – and that the one franc per day increase that the hotel proprietor charged in 1974 was considered a big deal!

Colin would often have breakfast at the Dôme, which was only a stone’s throw from his hotel. (The café still stands on the corner of boulevard du Montparnasse and rue Delambre.) The Dôme is where he met Beauford in 1968 or 1969. Beauford would come in at around 9 AM every day – alone – to have breakfast, and Colin became accustomed to seeing him there. He remembers being impressed by Beauford’s “beatific smile.” Colin said that Beauford seemed wary that people might try to take advantage of him, so at first he did not attempt to engage Beauford in conversation about personal things.

At that time, the Dôme had a sidewalk terrace (it is enclosed today). Colin recalls that Beauford always wanted to sit on the terrace in the front row, facing the street. In this way, he could watch people as they passed by. Beauford knew lots of people, so he was often quite busy greeting friends and acquaintances when he was at the Dôme.

Terrace of the Dôme Café, 1959
Photo from Cafés d’Artistes à Paris (photo credit-Archives)

Le Dôme, today
© Discover Paris!

Eventually, Colin offered to take Beauford back to his studio on rue Vercingétorix in the large black sedan (of the type used for London cabs) that he drove around town. He did this a few times before Beauford invited him up to the studio. Colin recalls that the entrance was au fond de la cour (at the back of the courtyard), and that it was up a flight of stairs. His most vivid memory of the studio is that everything was covered with white sheets.

Colin remembers that Beauford would occasionally take meals at the Coupole, and that he also liked to eat at a restaurant called Les Mille Colonnes on rue de la Gaité. This was not very far from his studio, and it also happened to be a place where Colin and his friends invariably had dinner. Beauford would always join them if he was there. At Les Mille Colonnes, starters and desserts cost only 90 centimes, and main courses cost 3.50 francs.  Though these prices were “Beauford's style” (affordable), Colin and his friends would chip in most of the time to take care of Beauford’s bill.

By the early 1970s, Colin began to note early signs of Beauford’s mental deterioration, mostly in the form of forgetfulness. Around 1973, he gave Beauford four large canvases that he has previously used for a promotional event. Beauford was grateful to receive them, and this strengthened the bond between him and Colin.

Colin’s favorite memory of Beauford is of taking him for rides in his big black cab. He named the car “Bill” because the license plate began with the letters “BLL.” Because the space next to the driver was reserved for luggage, Beauford always sat in the back, as a taxi passenger would do. He had an excellent vantage point for viewing the city because the seat was high, and Colin remembers that Beauford would look out the window at the buildings, cars, and pedestrians with a big smile on his face.

A London Taxicab
Photo: Wikipedia

Colin was unequivocal when he said that the most important aspects that he remembers of Beauford’s persona were his kindness and gentleness – the same attributes that numerous others have cited in this blog and elsewhere.

Beauford painted a portrait of Colin at the Vercingétorix studio in 1975. Colin sat for Beauford several times as the painting took shape. He remembers being seated in an armchair wearing a green army jacket for the sittings. When it was almost done, Colin had his friend Kathleen photograph him with the painting, with Colin posing in the chair where he sat for the painting and the painting perched behind and above him. Kathleen also took several photographs of Beauford’s studio at that time. Colin said that Beauford’s signature appeared on the painting as though it had been done in pencil.

Colin then went on a trip to the U.S., thinking that he would retrieve the painting upon his return. But by the time he came back to Paris, Beauford had been taken to Saint Anne’s Hospital and his studio had been vacated. Colin never saw the portrait again. He is hoping that his friend Kathleen will be able to find the photos that she took so that he will have some visual record of himself with the painting, as well as the studio.

Upon Beauford’s commitment to Saint Anne’s, James Baldwin most likely moved the painting to an apartment on rue des Anglais in the 5th arrondissement where he stored Beauford’s works and other belongings on a temporary basis. Several of these would later be shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem retrospective organized by Richard A. Long.

In looking at the catalog of that exhibition, I came across an image of a painting called Portrait of a Man in Green. Intrigued by the parallels that I noted in Colin’s description of Beauford’s painting of him and what I saw in the image, I contacted Colin to see if he could identify the portrait.

Portrait of a Man in Green
Beauford Delaney
Oil (undated)
Photo from catalog of Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective
Studio Museum in Harlem

Both he and his daughter immediately identified Colin as the person represented there! In addition to the physical likeness (curly hair, moustache and goatee) and the armchair and green jacket, Colin said that he always wore his wristwatch on the right arm. The man in Beauford’s portrait also has a wristwatch on the right wrist.

What a fortuitous outcome to my interview!

1 comment:

Robert Kettering said...

I too met Delaney, in 1969, and chatted with him on a few occasions through 1972. I particularly recall one all-night drinking bout with him and several other people (Matt Carney and his Vietnamese girl friend among them, as well as the artists Peter Marcasiano and Talus Taylor). At one point in the early morning hours, a drunken, skinny, mid-aged Black African man, who was missing one hand, confronted Delaney, yelling at him angrily for reasons that were obscure to me then and still are. After the man left the cafe, Delaney said, "Sad, a very frightened man." Delaney had been friends with the writer Henry Miller, and I recall two remarks Delaney made about Miller - "He was older than I" and "He was very intellectual."...I think the last time I saw Delaney was in 1974. I was seated on the terrace of the Cafe Dome and Delaney was kitty-corner across the boulevard. He had stopped walking to tie his shoe.

Robert Kettering (May 7, 2016)