re-Searching Beauford Delaney: An Uneven Introduction
by E. L. Kornegay, Jr., Ph. D.
This is the first reflection in a series that chronicles my research on Beauford Delaney. It is through collaborating with Monique Wells that I am guided into the work, life, and spirit of the Lovely Fortress: Beauford Delaney.
I recently visited the Art Institute of Chicago with a singular purpose in mind: to view the work of Beauford Delaney. I had secured an opportunity that gave me access to his works held in storage and the chance to thumb through some of the research associated with the man and his art.
I was told to go to a back entrance, next to the loading dock, where I would be given a visitor’s pass and made to wait for my contact. There on the side of the building, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the unceremonious off-loading of items heading into the guts of the building, security personnel methodically earning their hourly wage, and a handful of men hanging a poster on a wall next to me, I waited to begin my search for Beauford.
On the surface this description might seem superfluous, an unrelated and unworthy accoutrement to this research project and process. However, I think it conveys a perspective: one that is reflective of how to approach Beauford in order to properly research his work, his life, and his spirit. I was not brought through the front of the Art Institute, to walk up the main steps, on the Avenue, through its impressive galleries as an invited guest. No. Visiting Beauford required an alternative route, through a back door, off the beaten path, rather unnoticed, without fanfare, and disregarded. I knew, right then, that there is something unique about what I am encountering in the way of re-Searching Beauford.
Immediately I shifted my expectations from the cerebral to the spiritual: I was not a scholar doing research, but a guest of Beauford. re-Searching means that I am re-introducing myself to Beauford in a very personal, very intimate, and very spiritual way. The word "re-Search" is a neologism intended to signify différence in my approach to Beauford. I am beginning to see Beauford for myself and in doing so re-determining, re-visiting, re-inventing, what his work, life, and spirit means to me and for me. So, it was not meant for me to come through the front door as a guest might do, but through the back door as a family member or a familiar friend might do: différence!
I met someone – a lady (I am intentionally leaving her unnamed) – who whisked me down, and I do mean down, a service corridor to a vault in the belly of the building. There inside of the vault I saw for the very first time, Beauford’s work in person. It was an untitled abstract painted in 1965.
(1965) Oil on canvas
© E.L. Kornegay, Jr.
The colors were vibrant! I could see the artistry and craftsmanship: it was as if he had left a message securely placed within the painting itself. The message expressed control, lucidity, with a subtle protest against any attempts to segregate hues one from another. The colors were a commanding blend of pigments, a lovely fortress holding and protecting a message of togetherness for anyone who was willing to search for it. All of the colors belonged together and from behind them and in between the colors all sorts of visual possibilities emerge. The spirituality of love gets expressed in the work of Beauford.
(1965) Oil on canvas
© E.L. Kornegay, Jr.
For twenty or so minutes I studied the painting. I sought angles and distances, I moved about it creating a dialogue between my eyes, mind and spirit. The distance I felt in my initial entrance into the Art Institute was abated by the warmth I felt viewing and re-Searching Beauford’s painting. It was a wonderful “hello”!
I am just beginning to do more in-depth research into Beauford Delaney. The lack of fanfare, the common view of the world, the back door of human life and culture – its pigmentation – is what Beauford masterfully manipulated. In order to see what he sees, you must enter the world from his point of view: not through the front door, but from the back or the side, maybe the underside where the pillars upon which the world is built hold the most beauty and the most love.