I’m a lover of all things about James Baldwin, and, in particular, his biography by David Leeming. It’s Baldwin’s life force that keeps me going back for more, more, more. I’d guess I’ve read some parts of Leeming’s book five times, times two. I’ve used the photos in the book in my art (and so much more), I sometimes call up a story from his life to emphasize a point in mine. The man had balls. Big ones.
And his best buddy, friend, confidant, father figure, pal, great source of mutual [as in reciprocated] love, adoration, and respect: the painter, Beauford Delaney.
1966 Gouache on wove paper
25.25 x 19.25 inches (64.1 x 48.9 cm)
Signed and inscribed lower right to James Baldwin
© Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator
At Levis Fine Art, W. 24th Street, NYC, Beauford Delaney: Internal Light hangs, shines, glows. Yellow, Lilly Wei points out, was important to Delaney. A lot of these paintings are from Delaney’s years in Paris.
I saw the works the day before the official reception. I had a great sneak peek preview as I waited for Jim Levis to deal with NYC traffic and get to our meeting at the gallery.
I looked at the show, then sat in his office and started a letter. I had about thirty minutes. Of course, I looked up, down, and all around as I thought about what next to write to my pen pal.
I couldn’t miss the additional Delaney paintings that were in Jim’s private space.
On the office walls: art. I was surrounded by it. More compact, tighter, more dense than out in the gallery. Squashed up right against it. The best way to see it. Sitting in a comfy leather chair. Write another sentence, look at the paintings again. Think about the painter.
There was Beauford Delaney, looking at me. His big old head, a piece of sculpture by the door. Delaney was checking me out, too.
“Get up! Pay attention to these paintings!” I said to myself. “He actually touched these!” “These are from across the ocean! From a long time ago!”
Over Jim’s desk I leaned, and then my face was up close and personal with Untitled: Yellow, Red and Black Circles. I kept thinking, over and over, just like when I’m in a museum: “He made this stuff!” “He touched it!” “This painting was in Paris!” and I blurred back into mental fantasy of where / how / when this painting had moved in its ‘life.’ And now, it’s here, right over Jim’s desk, and I could touch it, if I wanted!
This was Delaney’s art. I had only read about him, and then only tangentially (to Baldwin), but here is the stuff he created, right here! I missed it the first time around – lost in my thoughts that I was “actually” in front of work that came from Delaney -- but Jim pointed it out to me, nice semi-Aristotelian style, when we got to talking about the Baldwin and Delaney connection.
“See what it says?” he asked, about the piece over his desk. I got up, I re-looked, and saw the signature in the bottom corner of Untitled. There it was! Damn!!! “For Jimmy, love Beauford” and a notation connecting the piece to Istanbul, 1966.
Ah !!! The connection! So wonderful to see, via Beauford’s inscription !
There it was. The connection that I knew existed, and here it was, original source evidence, in Delaney’s hand. He knew Baldwin!
I had been drawn in by Baldwin; now it was seeping in: Delaney’s force was also a force to be considered, give more attention. Pay attention. There is, here is, this guy’s art, right in front of me! It’s here, it’s now. It is a link to back then, and back there. Surreal. Then is now.
And Delaney’s handwriting: wonderful. Soft, and lots of up and down. Easy to read; relaxed. It doesn’t convey a huge picture (no pun intended) of the artist, but to my sensibilities, I feel a little closer to a person when I see their handwriting. His spirit, in another way, comes through. This is how he moves, how he moves his hand, when he holds a pen or brush and taps into the common symbols-making called the written word.
“For Jimmy” refers to James Baldwin, of course. The reason I was at the gallery, the reason I was in that office, the reason I became a visual artist, the reason I went to 181 Greene Street, retracing Baldwin’s search, looking for Delaney’s house? James Baldwin. James Baldwin. James Baldwin. He lights up some part of my soul, non-stop. “This little [art] light of mine” is fueled, in large part, by The Man with the big old bulging eyes (which weren’t, really, all that bulging).
Now I was bumping up close to Baldwin’s navigator, his wing man, his source, his rock: Beauford Delaney.
Beauford painted Untitled: Yellow, Red and Black Circles, I’m told, during his first trip to Istanbul, where he visited and stayed with Baldwin.
Some possible sources of inspiration, behind the work, for Delaney? Let’s gird our loins; okay. That’s enough. Let ’er rip, and let’s see what this work is.
It is existential.
It’s phallic, it’s penis and scrotum. It’s long and lean, with a big old tip and the line down the middle. It’s swimming amidst the circles. It’s balls on either side.
It’s yellow, it’s egg, it’s yoke.
It’s male and female, kind of swirly, bumping up right against each other. It’s a fried egg! Sitting in front of two balls. Mr. Penis wriggling his way through the players, and across the canvass.
It is the beginning of LIFE.
It is sunshine and light. It is the birth of “this little light of (yours and) mine.”
It’s where all sentient beings, you and me included, got our start. It is my life, Day One.
It is me, way back before I knew what the fuck was going on. It is from whence I sprang, from whence I swam and made my way, disconnected from, and not yet dependent on, air. A little fish swimming around, fluidy and cellular, with not a care in the world, yet. Not in the world, yet. Not in it and not of it, yet, but forces preparing ‘me’ and getting ‘me’ shaped by the two components seen here, sharing the canvass, as shared way back, when I was exactly this same configuration.
It is my self portrait. It is Beauford. It is Jimmy.
It is the masculine.
Delaney and Baldwin: MEN! Of course, their private parts are of utmost importance. Half kidding, and half ... not.
The Half-not part: It is apropos to paint what we care and think about. We definitely care about our organs, and our sexual organs, very definitely.
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