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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Jean-Loup Msika's Friendship with Beauford - Part 1

Jean-Loup Msika is a French artist and architect who was a friend of Beauford. We first met at the celebration of Beauford's life in Paris that was held during the Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition at Columbia Global Centers | Paris - Reid Hall on February 21, 2016. During that event, he spoke passionately about his relationship with Beauford and the interactions he had with close friends of Beauford at the time Beauford was permanently admitted to Sainte-Anne's Hospital.

Jean-Loup Msika at the celebration of Beauford's life in Paris
© Discover Paris!

Many in the audience were touched by his statements and I asked him whether he would grant me an interview to learn more about what he shared that day. Shortly thereafter, he invited me to his home at the Cité Fleurie - an artist's colony in the 13th arrondissement - and elaborated on the story that he told at Reid Hall.

Cité Fleurie
© Discover Paris!

Msika told me that in all the time he knew Beauford (they met in the late 1960s), he never saw Beauford in an "altered" mental state. He was surprised to learn that Beauford had such serious health problems and that he had been committed to Sainte-Anne's Hospital. He referred to a passage in Amazing Grace, the biography of Beauford written by David Leeming, which describes him as a "drinking companion" of Beauford (the implication being that Beauford and Msika consumed alcohol together). The book states that, according to one story, a man named Barry Tompkins and Msika persuaded Beauford's doctor to release him into their care, and that according to another story, the two men managed to "sneak him out of the hospital on the floor of a taxi."

The account goes on to say that when Tompkins and Msika realized how sick Beauford really was, they took him to Hôpital Cochin and had him placed in the geriatrics ward.

Hôpital Cochin - main entrance
© Discover Paris!

Msika emphatically denied that the only thing he and Beauford drank together was coffee and recounted his remembrance of the situation described in Amazing Grace. He said that he and Tompkins asked Beauford's doctors at Sainte-Anne's to allow Beauford to visit them at Cité Fleurie and that the doctors agreed. He and Tompkins took Beauford directly to Msika's home, where they had lunch. Beauford asked for paper and pencil and immediately began sketching "figures, faces, ideas...".

This caused Msika to believe that getting Beauford back to his studio at rue Vercingétorix, where he could be amongst his things and resume painting, would be the most advantageous thing for Beauford's mental health:

He was still creative. That's why I thought that the best medicine would be for him to go back to his environment. Unfortunately, it was lost to him.

He and Tompkins subsequently took Beauford to Hôpital Cochin to get a second opinion on Beauford's case and the hospital admitted him. When they returned the following day, they discovered that Hôpital Cochin had sent Beauford back to Sainte-Anne Hospital.

Msika said that after Beauford returned to Sainte-Anne's, he went to see Darthea Speyer to express his concerns. He says she dismissed him, saying that she "did not have to talk to him."

Beauford and Darthea Speyer at the American Cultural Center
Printed with permission from the U.S. Embassy in Paris

Msika recounted that he and James Baldwin met at Sainte-Anne Hospital at the time that the photograph below was taken.

Beauford and Baldwin, 1976
Photo by Max Petrus

He said he gave Baldwin his name and address and told him

...everything about me. He [Baldwin] told me nothing about himself and what he was doing [with Beauford].

He said that Baldwin's attitude toward him was one of arrogance.

Msika said that Baldwin and Bernard Hassell came to see him at Cité Fleurie and told him not to interfere with Beauford. They did not mention that Beauford's paintings had been moved from rue Vercingétorix to another Paris apartment and that Beauford could have gone there (Msika only learned this years later from reading the Leeming biography).  Had they done so, Msika said he would have encouraged them to allow Beauford to go to the apartment to see his paintings and try to reestablish a connection with his life as an artist.

Msika felt that remaining in the hospital would be a death sentence for Beauford. To this day, he believes that Beauford "let himself die."

Msika also spoke about the "Committee to Save Beauford Delaney" that is described in Amazing Grace. The biography's account suggests that the members of this group of between 12-15 persons - mostly painters and sculptors - who met at Cité Fleurie were less than "genuinely and seriously concerned with Beauford's welfare." Msika said some of them knew Beauford and others became involved in the group after reading about Beauford's condition in the press. All of them believed that Beauford to deteriorate at Sainte-Anne's, that he would increasingly depressed and amnesic. They wanted to find a way to help Beauford reconnect to his art and his life in Montparnasse.

Amazing Grace book cover

Baldwin informed Msika and the others that he was legally responsible for Beauford and advised them not to implicate themselves in the situation. Msika responded that this was "not a question of legality, but a question of life."

What Msika wanted for Beauford was to have him moved to a retired artist's home where he could have a small studio, easels, etc. and continue to work. He felt that a nurse could have been hired to care for Beauford at that studio. He understood that hospitalization might have been necessary for crisis periods, but believed that Beauford should have been able to return to a home environment when those crises passed. He felt that Beauford was not given the chance to reconnect with his artist's life.

Msika said that award-winning actress Simone Signoret got involved in the affair on Baldwin's behalf, inviting Msika to her apartment to tell him that Baldwin was her friend and that Msika had no right to oppose Baldwin's actions in any way. Msika responded that he and the group had nothing against Baldwin - they were only concerned about Beauford and disagreed with what Baldwin was doing. Given Signoret's political leanings toward Stalin, he dismissed her admonition.

Simone Signoret accepting the 1960 Oscar for Best Actress in Room at the Top
Screenshot from YouTube video

During the course of our interview, Msika repeated many times that he believed what Baldwin was doing was illegal. He said that when someone is in the hospital, nobody can legally touch their home and their belongings and believed that:

As long as there is a breath of life in this man [Beauford], he has to be able to go back home.

He therefore discounted Baldwin's statements about being legally responsible for Beauford.

Msika said that Speyer, Baldwin, and Hassell's* attitude and unwillingness to communicate about Beauford led Msika and others to be suspicious of their motives. He thought they would be eager to inform persons who cared about Beauford of what they were planning, but instead, they rebuffed those concerned. This is what engendered all the subsequent events described above.

Msika noted that "a lot of evil in the world comes from a lack of communication." He feels that he was ungraciously portrayed in the Leeming biography as a result of bad faith.

*Darthea Speyer, James Baldwin, and Bernard Hassell were members of the tutelle that the French government formed to look after Beauford's affairs while he was at Sainte-Anne's Hospital.

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