Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is partnering with the Wells International Foundation (WIF) to take the Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition to the U.S.!

We value your support!

TO MAKE A DONATION, CLICK HERE.
(All or part of your gift through WIF may qualify as a charitable deductible in the U.S.)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Beauford and Joseph Delaney to Be Honored in Knoxville

As a direct result of inspiration stemming from the two plaques that honor Beauford in the Montparnasse district of Paris, members of the Gathering Light movement in Knoxville have received approval for the installation of a double-sided marker that honors Beauford and his brother Joseph near the original Delaney home.

The Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection at the East Tennessee History Center in Knoxville is the sponsor for the proposed historical marker.

East Tennessee History Center
© Wells International Foundation

The Beck Cultural Exchange Center and the Knoxville Museum of Art are co-sponsors of the request.

Beck Cultural Exchange Center
© Wells International Foundation

Knoxville Museum of Art
© Wells International Foundation

The proposed location for the marker is the corner of E. Summit Hill Drive SE and Patton St (the preferred location) or directly across the street on the opposite side of E. Summit Hill Drive SE.

The placement is as near as the co-sponsors can get to Beauford's birthplace on E. Vine Street, which was destroyed by urban "renewal" between 1959 and 1974.

Proposed location of Delaney marker
Google map

The proposed text that honors Beauford reads as follows:

BEAUFORD DELANEY
1901 – 1979

Beauford Delaney is considered one of the
greatest abstract painters of the 20th century.
Battling poverty, racial prejudice, and mental
illness, he achieved acclaim for his expressive
portraits, cityscapes, and abstractions.
Beauford was an African American artist, one
of ten children born to Delia and John Samuel
Delaney at 815 East Vine Avenue, Knoxville,
near this site, but he spent most of his life in
New York City and Paris, forming lifelong
friendships with James Baldwin, Henry Miller,
and other luminaries. Beauford Delaney is buried
in Cimetière Parisien de Thiais.

The proposed text for Joseph is as follows:

JOSEPH DELANEY
1904 – 1991

Born near this site, African American artist
Joseph Delaney, like his older brother Beauford,
studied under local artist Lloyd Branson. In 1930
Joseph began his studies in New York at the Art
Students League. Joseph spent the next
56 years painting portraits and scenes of
urban life in lower Manhattan. In 1986, he
returned to Knoxville and served as artist in
residence at University of Tennessee until his
death in 1991. His works are in the collection of
the Smithsonian American Art Museum and other
major museums. Joseph Delaney is buried in
Greenwood Cemetery, Knoxville.

Image of a portrait of Joseph Delaney
by Beauford Delaney
in Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney
by David A. Leeming

The co-sponsors hope that the installation will take place in March / April 2018. They have submitted a follow-up request to have a single marker placed for Beauford and a second marker for Joseph on opposite sides of the street. The text for each marker would face oncoming traffic.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Beauford in the New York Times

On a whim, I recently decided to search Google for articles about Beauford in the New York Times.

While he is mentioned in several write-ups about art exhibitions in which his work was / is being shown or acquisitions of his paintings by museums, I found only two articles devoted entirely to his life.

The most recent is the brilliant piece written by Jake Cigainero and published last September:

Beauford Delaney Returns to the Scene


The other is an obituary, published on April 1, 1979. The author was C. Gerald Fraser, a journalist who had worked for the Times for 12 years at the time he wrote the article.

Beauford Delaney, Painter, Dies; Portraitist of the Famous Was 77


An article that comes close to being devoted exclusively to Beauford is Mel Watkins' review of David Leeming's biography, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney:

Painting Shadows

A piece called Art in Review presents the 1994 Philippe Briet Gallery exhibition of Beauford's work entitled The New York Years (1929-1953). It was written by Roberta Smith.

This online search led me to a newspaper archive search that has 678 entries for Beauford! As time permits, I'll be delving into these articles to see what gems I can uncover and share.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Beauford's Greens

I'll never forget a discussion I led during the Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition in February 2016, where the group was contemplating the self-portrait that graces the cover of the exhibition catalog:

We were discussing the fact that Beauford chose to portray himself in green and I stated my belief that he may have chosen that color because he did not feel well at the time he painted the portrait.

Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color
Catalog cover

Artist Loulou Taÿeb, who knew Beauford personally and who painted a portrait of him, was among the visitors in the group. He commented that he thought Beauford painted himself in green because "green is a beautiful color."

Portrait of Beauford Delaney
Loulou Taÿeb
(undated) Oil on canvas
Portrait: © Loulou Taÿeb
Image: © Discover Paris!

From then on, I have paid much closer attention to the greens in Beauford's work. Today, I'm sharing a few images that demonstrate his mastery of the use of this color.

Untitled
(1962) Gouache and watercolor on wove paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire
Court Appointed Administrator
Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Portrait of Jean-Loup Msika (detail)
(1971) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire
Court Appointed Administrator
Image courtesy of Jean-Loup Msika

Untitled (abstract green drip)
(1958) Gouache on paper
DCMoore Gallery
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Portrait of a Young Musician
(1970) Acrylic on canvas
51 x 38 in; 129.5 x 96.5 cm
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator
Studio Museum in Harlem; Gift of Ms. Ogust Delaney Stewart, Knoxville, TN 2004.2.27
Photo: Marc Bernier

Untitled
(1965) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire
Court Appointed Administrator
Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago



Saturday, October 28, 2017

Beauford and the Delaney Family in Jefferson City, Tennessee

Beauford's father, John Samuel (Brother) Delaney, was a Methodist Episcopal preacher and a barber. In 1905, he was called to serve as pastor at the Boyd Chapel Methodist Church in Jefferson City and the entire family moved there - Delaney, his wife, Delia, and their nine children. Beauford was only three or four years old at the time.

David A. Leeming, author of Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, says the following about the family's Jefferson City abode:

Sam was installed as the pastor of the Boyd Chapel Methodist church. His only pay was help with the rent for the "parsonage" the family lived in near the church ... The house was quite small, but it had a large vegetable garden as well as a huge front yard for the young children to play in. This would be home for five years.

Delia Naomi Delaney, the tenth and last of the Delaney siblings, was born in Jefferson City. She died in 1909 at eight months of age.

Photo of the Delaney Family, 1909
Top, left to right: Samuel Emery, John Samuel, Delia
Bottom, left to right: Joseph, Ogust Mae, Beauford, Naomi
Photo from du Closel archive
Image © Discover Paris!

Boyd Chapel recently celebrated its 150th anniversary of existence.

150th Anniversary Celebration Banner
Detail from photo by Standard Banner, Jefferson City, TN

Stephen Wicks, Barbara W. and Bernard E. Bernstein Curator at the Knoxville Museum of Art, was invited to speak at their celebration on September 16. Members of the Delaney family were in the audience.

Stephen Wicks Speaks at 150th Anniversary Celebration
Photo courtesy of Reverend Dr. Andrew Smith,
pastor of Boyd Chapel UMC

Attendees at 150th Anniversary Celebration
Photo courtesy of Reverend Dr. Andrew Smith,
pastor of Boyd Chapel UMC

Stephen Wicks at table (second from left);
Delaney family member in foreground
Photo courtesy of Reverend Dr. Andrew Smith,
pastor of Boyd Chapel UMC

During his presentation, Wicks made the argument that Beauford and his brother Joseph began their artistic paths at Boyd Chapel as they spent time "shaping figures of red clay in the parsonage yard and drawing biblical illustrations on their Sunday school programs."

The Delaney family remained in Jefferson City until 1915, when they returned to their original home at 815 East Vine Street in Knoxville. The building that Boyd Chapel UMC currently occupies was constructed in 1922.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Paris, France - A Work on Paper


The Menil Collection* in Houston, TX owns a single Beauford Delaney work - a drawing called Paris, France.


Paris, France

Ink on paper
8 1/4 × 10 9/16 in. (21 × 26.8 cm)
Signed LR: "Beauford Delaney" and inscribed LC: "Paris - France"
The Menil Collection
Gift of William A. and Joan Seeman Robinson
Photograph and Digital Image © The Menil Collection
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

I learned about this piece when I visited the Menil Collection in June 2017 and met curator Michelle White. She told me that it represented a street scene in Paris and said that it was currently archived. She later generously shared this image and asked me to comment on it from the perspective of a Paris resident.

Though my initial point of reference was a Paris street scene, I believe this work is a melange of several themes.

I see several human and abstract forms in the rectangular space that makes up two-thirds of the upper half of the drawing. On the left side, I see structures that could be construed as buildings, even dwellings, but they do not remind me of Paris.

In the bottom half of the drawing, I see a human figure next to the "dwelling" in the lower left corner. Moving my eyes to the right, I see a series of arches that stretch across the length of the work. They immediately bring to mind the viaduct that supports the trains of Metro Line 6 at Pont de Bercy - a bridge that connects the 12th and 13th arrondissements. The viaduct was built in 1904.

Viaduct at Pont de Bercy
2016 Cramos
Creative Commons License

After thoughtful consideration of what this drawing might depict, I shared it with curator Stephen Wicks at the Knoxville Museum of Art (with curator White's permission) and asked him to comment on it. Wicks recently curated a solo exhibition of Beauford's work that included numerous sketches.

He responded as follows:

...this strikes me as one of his [Beauford's] small ink sketches from the mid-1960s. I see 3-4 abstracted figures in the upper center surrounded by architectural elements in the foreground (arches) and left margin (roof lines) that suggest perhaps an open air concert or performance in Montparnasse or thereabouts. As you know, he adored the performing arts and depicted musicians and other performers in many paintings and sketches throughout his career.

Beauford lived in a studio on rue Vercingétorix during the 1960s and 70s. During the early- to mid-1970s, his neighborhood underwent massive renewal - including the demolition of the building that housed his studio. It is quite possible that the buildings and other structures represented in this drawing no longer exist.

*The Menil Collection suffered no damage from Hurricane Harvey.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Brothers' Network Features Les Amis President Monique Y. Wells


Several months ago, Gregory Walker of The Brothers' Network informed me that his godson would be attending graduate school in Paris in the fall. He asked if I'd be willing to share any insights about what his godson could expect as an African-American expatriate and give any recommendations that would make the transition from student life in the U.S. to student life in Paris easier.

Walker is Creative Dirctor of The Brothers' Network - a U.S. organization based in Philadelphia whose mission is to highlight positive contributions and representations of African-American men in creative and instructive ways through the arts. His godson, Anthony Fleet, serves as National Advisory Board Member for The Brothers' Network. Fleet is studying Integrated Marketing and Communication at Northwestern University and spending his last semester of master's-level study at Sciences Po in Paris.

Anthony Fleet at the Seine
Image courtesy of Anthony Fleet

I met Fleet in Paris in early September. Among the things we discussed were his realization that he was one of the few members of the Brothers' Network who had never traveled abroad and his appreciation of the opportunity to complete his graduate studies in Paris.

Fleet has developed a talent for video editing and production as part of his educational pursuits and he extended an invitation to me to be interviewed for The Brothers' Network's monthly editorial publication. He was particularly interested in the work I do to preserve Beauford's legacy and asked me to share the story of why I am so passionate about his life and work. Watch the interview below:



For more information about The Brothers' Network, click HERE.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

What Sold at Swann Auction Galleries' October 2017 African American Fine Art Sale

Five out of eight Beauford Delaney works offered during Swann Auction Galleries' October 2017 African American Fine Art Sale sold.

All four abstract works were purchased:

Untitled (Green Drip Abstraction)
(Lot 40), a gouache on wove paper, sold for $12,500 (including buyer's premium*).

Untitled (Green Drip Abstraction)
(1958) Gouache on wove paper
603x483 mm; 23.75x19 inches
Signed, dated, and inscribed "To Lucien, on his birthday
with affection from Beauford Delaney Paris 1958."
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator


Untitled (Brown and Orange Abstraction)
(Lot 41), another gouache on wove paper, sold for $8,125 (including buyer's premium).

Untitled (Brown and Orange Abstraction)
(1958-59) Gouache on wove paper
660x483 mm; 26x20 inches.
Signed and inscribed "To Jimmy with love Beauford Happy Birthday"
in ink, lower center.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator


Untitled (Green, Red and Yellow Abstraction)
(Lot 55), a watercolor on wove paper, sold for $11,875 (including buyer's premium).

Untitled (Green, Red and Yellow Abstraction)
(1964) Watercolor on wove paper
648x502 mm; 25 1/2x19 3/4 inches.
Initialed, dated and inscribed "Paris", in ball point pen and blue ink, lower center.
Signed and dated in ball point pen and blue ink, lower right.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

And Untitled (Abstract Composition) (Lot 56), another watercolor on wove paper, also sold for $11,875 (including buyer's premium).

Untitled (Abstract Composition)
(1965) Watercolor on wove paper
546x457 mm; 21 1/2x18 inches.
Signed, dated and inscribed "avec amour" in ink.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

The only figurative work that was purchased was Greenhouse at Yaddo (Lot 26).

Greenhouse at Yaddo
(1950) Color pastels on wove paper
457x610 mm; 18x24 inches.
Signed, dated and inscribed "Yaddo" in pastel, lower right.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

It fetched the highest price of all the Beauford Delaney works in this sale - $15,000 (including buyer's premium).

Three portraits remain unsold.

*At auction, there are two prices--the hammer price, or the price at which the item sells during the auction, and the price with the buyer's premium. All auction houses have a buyer's premium that the buyer pays to the auction house in addition to the hammer price. The buyer’s premium for items purchased directly through Swann is 25%. Swann Auction Galleries now reports the "hammer price" and the price that include the buyer's premium in its online catalog.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Abstract Works at Swann Auction Galleries' October 2017 Sale

Last week, I presented the four Beauford Delaney figurative works that are being offered during Swann Auction Galleries' Autumn 2017 sale of African-American Fine Art. This week, I am featuring the abstracts.

Untitled (Green Drip Abstraction)
(Lot 40) is a gouache on wove paper.

Untitled (Green Drip Abstraction)
(1958) Gouache on wove paper
603x483 mm; 23.75x19 inches
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

It is signed, dated, and inscribed "To Lucien, on his birthday with affection from Beauford Delaney Paris 1958." It is likely that "Lucien" is Lucien Happersberger, lover and lifelong friend of James Baldwin.

The estimated value of this work is $8,000 - $12,000.


Untitled (Brown and Orange Abstraction)
(Lot 41) is also a gouache on wove paper.

Untitled (Brown and Orange Abstraction)
(1958-59) Gouache on wove paper
660x483 mm; 26x20 inches.
Signed and inscribed "To Jimmy with love Beauford Happy Birthday"
in ink, lower center.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

It was a gift from Beauford to James Baldwin for Baldwin's birthday, which was August 2. Baldwin spent a great deal of time with Beauford in Clamart during the summers of 1958 and 1959 - the approximate dates ascribed to this work.

The estimated value of Untitled (Brown and Orange Abstraction) is $8,000 - $12,000.


Untitled (Green, Red and Yellow Abstraction)
(Lot 55) is a watercolor on wove paper.

Untitled (Green, Red and Yellow Abstraction)
(1964) Watercolor on wove paper
648x502 mm; 25 1/2x19 3/4 inches.
Initialed, dated and inscribed "Paris", in ball point pen and blue ink, lower center.
Signed and dated in ball point pen and blue ink, lower right.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

1964 was a busy year for Beauford. He participated in many group shows as well as a solo exhibition at the Galerie Lambert, in which abstractions and portraits were displayed.

I do not know whether Untitled (Green, Red and Yellow Abstraction) was publicly shown in 1964. Its estimated value is $10,000 - $15,000.

Untitled (Abstract Composition) (Lot 56) is another watercolor on wove paper.

Untitled (Abstract Composition)
(1965) Watercolor on wove paper
546x457 mm; 21 1/2x18 inches.
Signed, dated and inscribed "avec amour" in ink.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

In 1965, Beauford wrote the following about his work in a letter to Henry Miller:

Something has happened to my color and the paintings seem to have sunlight and the feeling sometimes of all you wonderful people it has been my privilege to have as friends and architects of the spirit.

One can easily visualize the brilliant yellow in this work as sunshine filtering through thick foliage, perhaps from the vantage point of a wrought iron grill over a window.

The estimated value of Untitled (Abstract Composition) is $8,000 - $12,000.

The auction will take place at 2:30 PM on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Preview dates are as follows: September 30 from 12-5 PM; October 2 to 4, 10 AM to 6 PM; October 5, 10 AM - noon.

For more information, contact Nigel Freeman at
.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Figurative Works at Swann Auction Galleries' October 2017 Sale

Eight Beauford Delaney works are available for purchase during Swann Auction Galleries' Autumn 2017 sale of African-American Fine Art: three portraits, one landscape, and four abstracts.

The figurative works are presented below:

Greenhouse at Yaddo (Lot 25) is a rare work on paper from Beauford's New York years in that it is a pastel that is not a portrait. Beauford gave it to his friend, poet May Swenson.

Greenhouse at Yaddo
(1950) Color pastels on wove paper
457x610 mm; 18x24 inches.
Signed, dated and inscribed "Yaddo" in pastel, lower right.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Beauford met Swenson during a two-month fellowship at Yaddo in September 1950. Biographer David A. Leeming describes his work from that period as "... paintings that, although still containing figurative elements, were much more abstract than anything he had done before."

Greenhouse at Yaddo is part of a private collection. Its estimated value is $15,000 - $25,000.

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man) (Lot 16) and Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man in Suit and Tie) (Lot 17) are part of a private collection. Both were obtained from Beauford's brother, Joseph.

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man)
(circa 1937-40) Color pastels on pale green, textured wove paper
625x480 mm; 24 1/2x18 7/8 inches.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Untitled (Portrait of a Young Man in Suit and Tie)
(circa 1940) Color pastels on pale gray wove paper
600x468 mm; 23 1/2x18 3/8 inches.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

These portraits are similar to works that Beauford created throughout the 1930s, beginning with his pastel and charcoal portraits of dancers at Billy Pierce's Dancing Studio on West 46th Street. The publicity that he received for these works led him to approach the Whitney Studio Galleries about showing them - which they did.

The estimated value of each portrait is $7,000 - $10,000.

The final figurative work is yet another portrait.

Portrait of a Bearded Young Man Reading
(1971-72) Oil on linen canvas
647x546 mm; 25 1/2x21 1/4 inches.
Signed and dated "1972" in pencil, lower left.
Signed and dated "1971" in pencil, lower right.
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Portrait of a Bearded Young Man Reading (Lot 75) dates from Beauford's Paris years. It is part of a private collection and bears two signatures and dates. The owner obtained this work from Beauford's niece, Ogust Delaney Stewart.

Beauford visited James Baldwin in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a hilltop town in southern France with a view of the Mediterranean Sea, in 1971 and 1972. Perhaps the blues and greens in the background of this painting represent that view.

The estimated value of Portrait of a Bearded Young Man Reading is $7,000 - $10,000.

To see images of the other Beauford Delaney paintings being offered at this sale, click HERE.

The auction will take place at 2:30 PM on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Preview dates are as follows: September 30 from 12-5 PM; October 2 to 4, 10 AM to 6 PM; October 5, 10 AM - noon.

For more information, contact Nigel Freeman at
.

Next week: the abstracts...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Beauford at the Tate Modern

One of Beauford's many portraits of James Baldwin is on display at the Tate Modern. It is part of the exhibition entitled Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.

Portrait of James Baldwin
(1971) Oil on canvas
Bequest of James Baldwin
Image courtesy of Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

The Tate Modern is promoting the exhibition as follows:

Soul of a Nation shines a bright light on the vital contribution of Black artists to a dramatic period in American art and history.

Beauford's portrait hangs in Section 9, which is entitled "Black Heroes." It is on loan from Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries.

The information card for the portrait is shown below.

Image courtesy of M. Herron

I wrote about this portrait in 2013 in the last of four segments of an article on the Beauford Delaney collection at Clark Atlanta University. Patricia Sue Canterbury, curator of the solo exposition entitled Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris that was mounted by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2004, comments on the painting in that article.

Note: The information card and the 2013 Les Amis article both indicate that there is some doubt as to whether this portrait represents Baldwin.

Soul of a Nation is on display through October 22, 2017. For more information, visit the Tate Modern's Web site.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Greece, 1967: Into the Blue

by Hanna Gressler

Grèce
(1967) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Beauford believed that abstraction was the purest form of art. His philosophy is evident in his painting, Greece (Grèce in French), where shape, form, and color become intertwined to create a new world and a new sense of being. The first time I encountered this painting, my mind was immediately engulfed by the intense blue and sporadic color of white that carried me into a new experience of nature.

Eventually, I learned about Beauford’s suicide attempt on a boat to Greece in 1961, which led him to be institutionalized for the first time. Although the painting, Greece, was created six years after the incident, Beauford was troubled by mental illness all his life and the painting may speak of a continuing desire to achieve a sense of unity in oneself and with the world.

The blue of the ocean is all-encompassing. By looking at this painting, you dive into the deep blue and the shifting waves that take you someplace new. The more your eyes drift upward, the lighter the blue becomes as white patches of color become more frequent, and it seems as if the ocean has gradually turned into the sky. Between these blue and white swirls of color lies a horizon filled with more blue – a new world where nature and its colors are intertwined with one another, almost indistinguishable.

And as you stare more closely into this horizon, you become immersed into its everlasting world, where all nature is one and you are one with nature. In this world, the soul transcends the body through this experience of the intense blue of the ocean and the sky, their bodies interlaced, shifting into one another, becoming united.

However, the dark blue of the ocean and its oscillating waves also contain a certain chaos and danger. This new world we are entering is unfamiliar territory. By becoming one with nature, we are unraveling the folds of our body and mind, revealing the darkness within ourselves. Looking into the painting, we are confronted by our deepest desires and fears. If we allow ourselves to be drowned by the heavy blue and chaotic waves, there is no certainty that we will come back. Suddenly, the horizon between the ocean and the sky becomes a bottomless hole that pulls us inward. There is a darkness that lies beyond this world, which we may not be strong enough to confront.

Now, the image of becoming united with nature suggests the necessity for death. The indistinguishable shapes and forms of the painting portray a spectacle of nature, where every body is part of another and another, and together they create one mesmerizing and engulfing world of chaotic nature. It is only through death may return to this nature and nourish the next generation of life.

Whether Beauford jumped into the ocean in order to escape life and become united with nature will never be known. But Greece expresses a yearning for unity – with oneself, with those around us, with nature – despite the darkness that it involves, because it may be only through this way that we achieve peace.

Hanna Gressler is a senior at the American University of Paris. She served as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

What Hides Behind the Unusual Door: Metaphor or Song?


Lord, I was to hear Beauford sing, later, and for many years,
open the unusual door. My running buddy had sent me
to the right one, and not a moment too soon.”

- The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction,
James Baldwin, 1948-1985

Dark Rapture (a portrait of James Baldwin)
(1941) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

In his collection of nonfiction stories spanning over 40 years, the writer James Baldwin recalls his close friend and mentor, Beauford Delaney, singing the phrase, “Lord, open the unusual door.” Today, there exists the question of whether Beauford was singing a verse of a song or whether the phrase is a metaphor that holds a certain truth to the artist. Since Baldwin recalls hearing Beauford sing the phrase “for many years,” it can be understood that the phrase was particular to Beauford and perhaps reflected an artistic philosophy. In my research to answer this question of song or metaphor, I stumbled upon articles highlighting the friendship between Baldwin and Beauford, who found artistic inspiration in each other. However, the origin of the phrase remains unknown, given the source of “old song.” This type of source allows for many interpretations: the phrase could have come from a song Beauford’s mother used to sing to him, or maybe from a prayer he learnt, or it could be a vision he was trying to express.

My research brought me to analyses of Beauford’s perception of the world and the important influence this perception had on Baldwin’s writing and his own view of reality. The image of opening an unusual door implies entering into an unfamiliar environment, one that leads to a new confrontation with reality. This idea is reflected in Beauford’s art and his belief that abstraction is the purest form of art. The artist looked beyond the world in front of us and found the light within the mundane. This required him to see with a different eye, to enter a new dimension.

In an interview for a Spanish literary journal in 1987, Baldwin recounted the start of his artistic life, which was shaped by Beauford’s perception of reality: “We were stopped at a street corner waiting for the traffic light to change, and Beauford pointed down and said, ‘Look.’ I looked and all I saw was water. But he insisted: ‘Look again.’ Which I did, and I saw oil in the water and the city reflected in the puddle. For me this was a revelation. Which cannot be explained. He taught me to see, and to trust what I saw. Often it is painters who show writers how to see. And once you’ve had this experience, you see in a different mode.”* This reality of seeing allowed the artists to discover that light is contained in every surface and being. By passing through the “unusual door,” we become one with ourselves and the world around us. However, this new reality is not yet entirely known to us, and we may find in it something we did not want to discover.

In his article, “Open the Unusual Door: Visions from the Dark Window in Yuref Komunyakaa’s Early Poems,” Ed Pavlić compares the poet Komunyakaa’s image of the dark window with Beauford’s image of the unusual door, both of which must open in order to reveal a hidden truth about ourselves and the world we inhabit. In the author’s interpretation of the phrase, “Lord, open the unusual door,” Beauford describes a type of distance from reality that leads to a new form of presence. This unfamiliarity gives rise to a newfound intimacy with not only oneself, but the world around one as well. This sense of unfamiliarity is integral in the process of artistic expression because it forces one to step back from the world and find a new light where there once was only the darkness of the unknown. In this way, the artist not only pushes the boundaries of his mind, but of the world as well, creating new realities into which the artist may escape and find freedom.

Furthermore, Pavlić links the phrase to a modernist sense of creativity in which the artist has a transfiguring presence. This modernist sense of creativity involves an exploration of psychic interiors that resists conventional reasoning and enters into a modern dissociation of sensibility. As a result, they transform into versions of a kind of non-identical identity. “Lord, open the unusual door” calls for the discovery of the images that lie on the other side of the door, which will reveal the unconscious - images in the psyche that may reflect the artistic process of Beauford’s abstract paintings. However, according to the Pavlić’s analysis, opening the unusual door reveals a self that is not itself: “As it was for Baldwin, the creative process is centered in a world of transmuted, transmuting, presence which disrupts prepackaged meaning received through ideology, power, or simply laziness and the seductive inertia of habit. In Komynyakaa’s thought, this kind of presence is rooted in contradiction” – specifically in relation to racial identity, and other senses of self.

The image of the unusual door opening to another dimension where the psyche can move freely and transform, suggests that this door leads to lost or remote, but powerful, dimensions of the self that can come alive through art. In his paintings, it is clear that Beauford viewed the world with a different eye, one where the light in every body unites you with the world. Art allowed him to open that unusual door into this new dimension, but what lies there is unknown and unfamiliar, and there may be no way back.

*Elgrably, Jordan. “A traves del fuego: entrevista con James Baldwin.” Quimera: Revista de literature 41. (September 1984): 22.


Hanna Gressler is a rising senior at the American University of Paris. She is serving as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sunlight Drifters

By Hanna Gressler

Untitled
(1966) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

My inspiration for this prose poem comes from the shapes created by the bright yellow and deep red colors in Beauford’s painting, Untitled, that seem to be telling a story. When I look at this painting, the bright colors radiate like the sun, and I am overcome by a sense of humility as I am reminded of the beauty of nature. In my prose poem, I wanted to evoke this sense of beauty and humility by describing one of the stories I find in the painting.

The sun rose as the peasants gathered. Above scattered fields, a wind blew, whistling under the wakening sky. Sunflowers flowed in the wind, brushing against each other’s petals as if swaying to a song underneath the sun. The peasant women trotted along unpaved roads with only the footsteps of previous mornings to guide them. Here, in the downtrodden streets of an impoverished French countryside, they gathered, religiously, with bare heels poking out of torn shoes, early morning on their backs and babies underneath their breasts, hovering together as if to protect one another.

Their heavy steps pressed into the mud, on and on, toward the rich yellow of the sunlight awakening above them. Gradually, limb by limb, the women could feel the sun’s warmth fill their bodies, reminding them of another life. With mouths shut tight, for it was too early in the morning to speak yet, only creases along their faces spoke of distant memories, when struggle was not a part of survival. And if both their hands were not safely holding the bums of their children, naked underneath the cloth that held them close to their mothers’ wombs as if to help them retreat back inside, then the rugged skin of the other hand, beaten and clumsily stretched onto their bodies, swung along beside them, free, the only limb not yet put to use for the day’s work. They leaned into this arm with the weight of two bodies, depending on it to hold them together, like the last surviving branch of a tree in winter that must succumb back to earth.

Like this the women walked, moving further and further toward the edge of the countryside, forming a horizon of their own where the earth will not end, but continue on for centuries, like the rise and fall of the sun, like the mothers, like these mornings. And beyond the women and the flowers, laid thick layers of hills overlapped into more distant spectacles. They glistened with such a tender texture against the dewy sky that if one were to point his finger toward the green grass wrapped around the hills, he would feel the bodies of nature rise like strokes of thick paint on a canvas, prickling the bottom of his finger, touching him with their own reality; and for a moment, intertwined with nature, he would become one with the hills, the sunflowers, the women, everlasting.

Hanna Gressler is a rising senior at the American University of Paris. She is serving as a 2017 summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Beauford's Reflections on Leaving New York

In August 1953, Beauford left New York City for what he planned as an extended visit to Europe. A week prior to his departure, he wrote the following in his journal as he pondered his upcoming voyage:

reflecting on many things—feelings of nostalgia and apprehension, of love and sorrow, of joy and regret, of things known and unknown, of a rededication of faith hope and love, of willingness to accept the challenge and do the best I can with it*

He never returned to New York.

Today I present several images of works from Beauford's New York years that, in my view, reflect some of the emotions expressed in this poignant passage.

Can Fire in the Park
(1946) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Earth Mother
(1950) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Dark Rapture
(1941) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Portrait of Delia Delaney
(1933) Pastel on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Burning Bush
(1941) Oil on paperboard
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

*Passage quoted from Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, by David A. Leeming.