While this may have been true in the context that Beauford was speaking—Burt could easily distinguish original Delaneys from copies or fraudulent pieces)—in fact, it is Beauford who “had the eye.” Whether or not he knew it consciously, we may never know. But one can certainly see it in his paintings, and particularly in his self-portraits.
In Beauford’s formative years as an artist, capturing likeness was his primary goal in portraiture. But during his New York years, he began to take painterly liberties with his portraits of Harlem residents, and in his Paris years, his portraits of others reflected his increasing concern with color and the “inner light” of his subjects in opposition to likeness. Author David Leeming cites an example of this attitude in Amazing Grace, the only biography of Beauford in print thus far. In an exchange between Beauford and Elwood Peterson regarding Peterson’s portrait, Beauford states:
If you wanted an exact likeness you could have gone to a photographer…when you sing you become eighteen again, and that’s what I wanted to capture.Peterson offered to buy the painting, but Beauford refused payment, giving the painting to his subject instead.
Sue Canterbury, curator of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts exposition entitled Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris, states in her essay on Beauford’s life and work that “One eye sees without; the other within.” She elaborated on this comment for today’s blog posting, saying that she wished to draw attention to the difference between two types of vision that one might attribute to Beauford—one being the reading of external phenomena, and the other, reading/seeing on a deeper plane of meaning that one might call that spiritual or cosmic. Burt Reinfrank, a great friend of Beauford and a contributor to this blog, believes that Beauford was connected to humanity in a way that transcends our worldly consciousness, and stated that Beauford often spoke of “the cosmos.”
In looking at a series of Beauford’s self-portraits, the astute observer will note that there is often asymmetry in Beauford’s eyes. This irregularity differs from portrait to portrait, and is not a reflection of any physical disfigurement in Beauford’s face. Perhaps this is Beauford's way, consciously or subconsciously, of depicting the two types of vision described above.