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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Nell Painter on Beauford

Nell Painter (the artist formerly known as the historian Nell Irvin Painter) lives and works in Newark, New Jersey. She uses found images and digital manipulation to reconfigure the past and to revision herself through self-portraits. She first focused on Beauford’s work when she was writing her book entitled Creating Black Americans: African American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2006). All of the images in this book are of black fine art, and she comments on Beauford’s Can Fire in the Park (1946) and his portrait of Marian Anderson in it.

Nell is particularly enamored of the self-portrait that Beauford created when he was at Yaddo in 1950.

Self-portrait, Yaddo
(1950) Pastel, watercolor, and charcoal on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

She discovered this self-portrait a few years before she became an artist in residence at Yaddo (October 2012). While there, she corrected an oversight that left Beauford off the list of visual artist "guests" kept by the program. She said that Yaddo was proud of Delaney and that they mounted a show of his work. But he still had been left off the list of guests.

She has created numerous collages based on this work, several of which she has allowed me to reproduce here.

Yaddo Diptych, Framed
Nell Painter
(2014) Digital collage on paper

Yaddo L Lines
Nell Painter
(2014) Digital collage on paper

Right now, her favorite is Beauford Delaney at Yaddo on Pink, 2014. It is the last of the series based on the Yaddo self-portrait.

Beauford Delaney at Yaddo Pink 2014
Nell Painter
(2014) Digital and manual collage on paper

I asked Nell how the greater body of Beauford's work has influenced her art. She replied:

One clear influence is my use of cadmium yellow as a base coat for paintings of people to give the painting overall warmth, a kind of humanity. His portraits of James Baldwin taught me that a portrait needn't try to mimic the look of the sitter in order to convey power and affection. The yellow helps with this.

She also shared the following reflection on Beauford's life and work:

I have a long involvement with France, starting with junior year abroad in 1962-63 in Bordeaux and 1996-1997 in Paris. My husband and I are both fluent in French, so I couldn't ignore the strong French thread running through the lives, experiences, and work of many of the twentieth-century black painters whose work I liked, e.g., Palmer Hayden, Hale Woodruff, Romare Bearden, Robert Colescott... I think my painters could not have painted without their French dimension encouraging them to be themselves in their work. Beauford Delaney stands out among them with his need for freedom and support. I doubt he could have made his magnificent oeuvre had he remained in the U. S.



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