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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Invitation to a Gathering of Souls

Last month, E.L. Kornegay, Jr. contributed the first of a series of articles that explore his experiences and reflections in the scholarly pursuit of Beauford's life and art. Today he brings us Part Two of "re-Searching Beauford Delaney."


“Invitation to a Gathering of Souls”
re-Searching Beauford Delaney: Part Two

by E. L. Kornegay, Jr., Ph. D.

I cannot say, with all honesty, that I ever imagined I would get this close to Beauford Delaney. Yet, here I am feeling in some way that it was intended for me to be standing in the midst of his memory and his artistic legacy.

There are many who both love and appreciate Beauford Delaney. In fact my formal introduction into his world came by way of a chance third party connection to Monique Wells. She was in Chicago to do a presentation on Beauford Delaney and the efforts of Les Amis. While we were unfortunately unable to meet face-to-face, Monique graciously chatted with me over the phone. She is the first soul I would encounter gathered around Beauford. This leads me to say while I first heard of Beauford through my research on James Baldwin, I feel that I was formally introduced to Beauford through Monique.

This is at the heart of what I feel is so much of who Beauford Delaney was in life and what keeps him alive in the hearts and minds of many. Beauford’s art gives his soul tangibility. His art is a tangible expression of his soul and an invitation to be in his company.

Beauford among his paintings
Photo from Darthea Speyer Gallery Invitation to
1973 Beauford Delaney Solo Exposition

I am beginning to see Beauford’s art as a collection of invitations: a history of the souls he encountered. Seeing him standing amongst his paintings, whether it is the work of his early period, first in Boston and then New York or the latter period in Europe, a sense of community emerges. These images are not a collection of paintings: each is a uniquely crafted expression of a soul he met or souls he felt and could only gauge abstractly. I can only imagine the beauty behind the madness of feeling but not knowing, and the power it took to capture it on canvas. As such, it seems to me that Beauford would think it strange to see him apart from his art – to be located alongside its beauty yet somehow separated from the madness. Beauford moves amongst his art, a gleeful host cherishing the wild and peaceful presence of colorful souls in his space. Beauford did not create a collection of art: Beauford Delaney proffered a gathering of souls.

As I encounter, one by one, the paintings of Beauford, I sense that each piece is insistent. Each work invites you not merely to view it, but to encounter its presence and to feel what you see inside of its colors, shapes, and textures. This goes on from one painting to another in the way a conversation amongst friends flows naturally when gathered together. The gift of seeing his paintings as a whole is to be invited into a cloud of witnesses. You cannot know one: you must know them all.

I am grateful for the invitation and awestruck by the gathering of souls around Beauford Delaney. Henry Miller writes “Beauford was an artist before birth; he was an artist in the womb…”1 In other words Beauford painted from his soul: even before he was formed in his mother’s womb. So Beauford paints to gather us together and invites us to remember those things before we were formed, where beauty is pure and madness is a mirage.

1Henry Miller, The Amazing and Invariable Beauford Delaney. (New York: New Directions), 1941.

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