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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bob Shigeo Remembers Beauford

Bob Shigeo is an American artist and WWII veteran who has lived in Paris since 1953. Inspired by the kinetic art of Alexander Calder and the paintings of Jackson Pollack, he took advantage of the GI bill to study at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura y Escultura in Mexico, the Art Students’ League in New York, and finally the Ecole de la Grande Chaumière in Paris.

Bob Shigeo at the reception following
the gravesite ceremony in October 2010
© Discover Paris!

Bob’s memory of meeting Beauford is intricately tied to Beauford’s friend Earl Kirkham. (Kirkham was the New York painter that Beauford happened to run into at the Dôme café on his first night in Paris.)

According to Bob, Kirkham was well-known and respected among the American artists in Paris. He taught at the Académie Colarossi, sister school to the Académie de la Grande Chaumière located two doors down the street, where Bob was enrolled. Bob met Beauford either at the Académie Colarossi or the adjacent Wadja Restaurant, but he does not recall the details. Wadja was a very modestly priced restaurant during the 1950s and served as the “headquarters” for those studying at the Grand Chaumière and the Colarossi. Beauford lived nearby at the Hôtel des Ecoles and was always in search of a low-cost meal, so it is likely that the two men met there.

Wadja Restaurant
© Discover Paris!

Though Bob now knows that Beauford was no more than 52 years old when they first met, at the time, he thought that Beauford was around 80 years of age! He thought the same thing about Kirkham, and attributes this to the fact that both men had a certain reputation in the New York art world. He did not know that Beauford and Kirkham had known each other prior to coming to Paris, and said that he found both men to be unpretentious and approachable, despite their “stature.”

Bob visited Beauford many times in Beauford’s studios at the Hôtel des Ecoles and at rue Vercingétorix. He recalls the latter studio being about twice the size of the former, but says that the two places had one special thing in common – the color white. At the Hôtel des Ecoles studio, the walls were covered with traditional French wallpaper (which generally had a busy, colorful pattern). Bob remembers that Beauford covered the walls with white paper so as “not to be distracted” by the walls when he worked. Similarly, at rue Vercingétorix, Bob recalls that Beauford draped everything in the apartment that he could with white sheets.

Bob’s fondest memories of Beauford are at rue Vercingétorix, where he would often stop by on his way home between 5 PM and 7 PM. He said that Beauford was a good cook and he would often prepare a meal that he and Bob would share. Bob noted that though Beauford liked wine, he would never serve wine with these meals.

Beauford had a nice chair in his studio and an easel set up nearby. Bob recalls that Beauford would invite him to sit down and then immediately go over to the easel and begin to sketch or paint him. He always thought it was interesting that Beauford would never ask permission to paint him – he’d just begin working. He painted Bob several times without asking! Unfortunately, the whereabouts of these portraits are unknown.

Once, Bob sat for a portrait in a black pullover one time, but when he saw it, he found that Beauford had painted the pullover in red. Bob indicated that he recognized this as an example of a very important aspect of Beauford’s artistic persona – he said that Beauford did not feel the need to paint “reality” – to copy exactly the forms and colors in front of him. He painted what he “felt,” which is what made him the important artist that he was.

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