Catherine St. John, Doctor of Arts in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Liberal Arts at Berkeley College in Woodland Park, New Jersey, provided the following commentary on the painting and on Beauford's art as a cultural entity.
Painting was an act of faith for Beauford Delaney (1901-1979). As both actual presence and spiritual transcendence, the finite limits of his paintings open up to an abstract language grounded by both the eye and by intuition. His painted surfaces transform different sensations of light on to canvas. He creates illusions of inwardly expanding space.
It is to Delaney’s abstractions that we turn for his greatest achievements. Involved in the turbulent and lively demi-monde of post-war Paris, it was here that he began his all-over paintings with their fields of color, their fluid swirls of closely valued tonal gradations. At the service of the effects of light on form, these loosely connected patches of color exhibit variations of touch in which the entire surface functions as something greater than its parts.
His Untitled Abstract, 1968, 13x18-inch rhythmic oil on canvas in the collection of the Hampton University Museum is created out of his preferred color yellow, not color in a mediating role as something else, but as a means. Beauford Delaney had a life-long involvement with light and color. The concreteness of color rather than its imitative potential is the subject. We see the materiality of paint with little tonal difference of color. All elements seem to be interdependent and our focus is dispersed. It is an assured painting of spontaneous feeling and the love of the creative process.
In Untitled we are given passages of yellow, abstractions of the material world dissolving into pure color and light. In his book Amazing Grace: a Life of Beauford Delaney, his biographer David Leeming notes Beauford’s celebration of the color yellow as the substance of light in relation to spirit. His concern with the play of light and its rather specific qualities make his painted surfaces a place of spiritual significance. His attraction to the color of light is underscored in the titles of his paintings such as Moving Sunlight, Yellow Light Swirling, and Yellow Light.
Delaney favored more the dimensions of easel painting and while Untitled may seem to be a modest work, it gives presence to an important voice in the shaping of American art. This work reflects larger cultural and artistic issues.
Beauford Delaney’s art is an art of originality, autonomy and authenticity. It plays an intrinsic part in the formal language of modernism and exemplifies the complexity and quality of American culture. In the pivotal moment when the distinctly American aesthetic Abstract Expressionism had become canonical, Delaney was steadfast in pursuing the same visual issues as the more recognized painters like Pollock, de Kooning, and Motherwell. Whether stylistically aligned with the dominant strains of Abstract Expressionism or with contemporary French art, his color allusions are compatible with flatness, one of the defining criteria of modernism, and his dissolving shapes and colors so effectively held together give a sense of coherence to the exploration of abstract relational possibilities.
With Beauford Delaney, one experiences a triumph of styles and through his giving presence, he has played an intrinsic part in the cultural phenomenon we call art. His art is a form for the act of painting itself. Delaney believed that there is only one art and it belongs to every one. Ultimately it is to the art that we must turn.