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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Conversations with Beauford - Part 2

Paul Sinclair is the agent for the African-American expatriate artist Ealy Mays. He and Mays are admirers of Beauford's work and students of his life story and Sinclair's profound respect and empathy for Beauford inspired him to represent Mays. The following is a second excerpt from an article that Sinclair wrote after visiting Beauford's solo exposition Beauford Delaney: Internal Light, which was recently held at Levis Fine Art in Manhattan. I have published it here with his permission.


... So as I stood at Levis Fine Arts and solemnly reached into his eyes, I found the man as complex, as soft, as tender, and as serene as the multitude of other witnesses to his existence. He refused my probes for direct answers and where he responded, it was in terms still comprehensible only by geniuses or madmen. His genteel and almost princely Portrait of a Man on White is juxtaposed to the effeminate yet rough portrayal of Howard Swanson, wherein Beauford obviously channeled much of his own inner turmoil into the almost “piggish” face with which he obscured Swanson’s neck. It was the eyes of Portrait of Man in Red that captivated me, and again I wondered while stepping back, “How did Beauford manage to fuse his own persona into this face of a white man?” In studying the portrait, an image of Beauford instantly came alive.

Portrait of a man in red / Michael Frelich, 1965
Oil on canvas
18.0 x 15.0 inches (48.7 x 38.1 cm)
Signed on reverse
© Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator

His Portrait of Ahmed Bioud went straight to the core of Bioud’s soul. One is captivated by his eyes and thereafter, seeing the rest of the portrait becomes a blur. Portrait of a Seated Man was again the Beauford with something to hide, yet dignified and meticulous in all that he did. An untitled piece described as Seated Figure in a Café simultaneously places the individual in a forest or jungle, which forced the question of whether an artist can ever truly be anything but himself or herself. The tumult and confusion of Beauford’s mind was such that even moments seated in a city café might unleash attacking lions and tigers, monkeys swinging wildly, and birds singing his favorite tones, all from deep within rain-forest vegetation through which rays of yellow sunlight would extend to yank at his consciousness and return him to the drink in his glass or the food on his plate.

Whatever darkness he felt inside would often give way to a constant light. Where the focus was not on a realist image, Beauford would go dancing in a magical world of light-infused abstracts. Without saying so, it was clear that this was where he found the most solace. He was an abstract painter before the movement and standing there in the gallery, it became clear to me that his strokes into abstraction were the unleashing of impulses formed from deep within. You got the sense that they were not visual formations, but instead the guided manifestation of hands driven by forces from within as Beauford pranced away in some foreign universe. And then he showed me an even more surprising beauty in Abstract in Turquoise, another piece of abstract work but this time a dalliance with a light-infused shade of blue.

Abstract in Turquoise
Gouache on wove paper, 1961
25.75 x 19.75 inches (65.4 x 50.2 cm)
Signed and dated lower left
© Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator

The man I spoke to was not necessarily insane. He was instead different, and like other geniuses, possibly quite misunderstood. In her biopic definition of the man and his work, Gertrude Stein lauded , as being at the essence of his greatness.the genius of Picasso’s ability to see things differently than the rest of us, as being at the essence of his greatness. According to Stein, “... Picasso was not like that, when he ate a tomato, the tomato was not everybody’s tomato, not at all and his effort was not to express in his way the things seen as everyone sees them, but to express the thing as he was seeing it.” In a different way, Beauford showed me that he too saw things differently from the rest of us.

James Baldwin might have been correct in the following attribution to Beauford Delaney, with the exception of the last portion:
He has been starving and working all of his life – in Tennessee, in Boston, in New York, and now in Paris. He has been menaced more than any other man I know by his social circumstances and also by all the emotional and psychological stratagems he has been forced to use to survive; and, more than any other man I know, he has transcended both the inner and outer darkness.
But what I saw and heard from Beauford was a little different. His inner darkness gave way to the outer light and there might not have been a need to transcend any of that. Should there always be an expectation of genius’ coexistence with rationality, or of light in constant opposition to darkness in regards to those who create? Can logical minds or trouble-free souls be reasonable expectations in the creation of art? Those who knew Beauford, those who loved him, and those who were uplifted by his art, were all saddened that the “companions” that drove the genius had in time also devoured the man. But the man was here, and his art now transcends both time and space, and this should be a source of happiness and inspiration for all.

As Homer once said, there can be no pledging of faith between men and lions. It is to be expected that lion will devour man. Beauford would have known that all along and from behind the caged walls of l’hôpital St. Anne in Paris, he yielded to his inner lions on the 26th day March 1979.

Read the first excerpt from Paul Sinclair's article here.

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