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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Radio France Interview: Philippe Briet and Darthea Speyer Talk about Beauford

I had the unexpected pleasure of receiving a call from Catherine de la Clergerie of Radio France a few days ago. She told me that she remembers seeing Beauford frequently at Le Select in Montparnasse and wanted to offer me a recording of part of an interview that Radio France recorded with Philippe Briet and Darthea Speyer at the Darthea Speyer Gallery in 1992. The subject: Beauford!

Darthea Speyer Gallery
© Discover Paris!

The roughly 30-minute recording begins with the voice of Darthea Speyer explaining why she decided to mount a retrospective of Beauford's work in 1992. She mentioned that Philippe Briet had mounted a Beauford retrospective a few years earlier and said that she felt she should have done one herself years ago. She also reflected that she should have mounted her first one-man show (1973) of Beauford's work earlier, before his health began to decline.

The majority of the interview featured Phillipe Briet. Briet explained how he discovered Beauford's work at the Studio Museum of Harlem and how each painting that he was able to view evoked in him "profound joy." He recounted how he sought out those who had loaned Beauford's works to the retrospective that was held at the Studio Museum of Harlem in 1978, Richard A. Long as curator of the retrospective, and eventually Darthea Speyer and Solange du Closel in Paris.

What was most interesting about the interview was listening to Briet talk about Beauford as a person. Though he never met Beauford, he expressed definite opinions about Beauford's personality and characteristics. He described Beauford as "one of the most positive beings that one could know in the 20th century." He saw Beauford as a "mystic," someone who was interested in the "soul" of things. He expressed his belief that Beauford's life was one of "solitude, reflection, and concentration."

Philippe Briet
Photo courtesy of Catherine de la Clergerie

Briet said that if he had to cite the work of American abstract expressionist painters whose work "approached" that of Beauford with regard to "sensitivity," he would select Clyfford Still and Mark Tobey. He believed that Beauford's interest in light could not be compared to that of the Impressionists, who were concerned with the physical aspects of light and its effect on objects. He thought that Beauford's work was much more powerful and compared it to that of Rembrandt.

Regarding Beauford's habit of draping his studios in white sheets, Briet considered that this represented Beauford's desire to "see" silence, to be able to look into eternity, to look into time. He saw gravity and pain in Beauford's face as Beauford represented himself in his self-portraits. He thought that the fact that Beauford painted both abstract and figurative works might represent what Beauford saw through his own eyes when he was alone (abstract) juxtaposed with what others saw in the absolute sense (figurative).

Briet said that few artists have the ambition and the pride to have a sense of eternity. This is what he looked for in art - works that made him reflect on time and would make those seeing the works centuries later reflect on time as well. He considered such works to be true art and felt that Beauford's work had this quality.

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