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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Maggie Umber's Artistic Tribute to Beauford

Several days ago, I received a "Google Alert" about Beauford. One of the links provided led me to the image below.

Portrait of Beauford Delaney
Maggie Umber
(2017) Watercolor on rough paper

Intrigued, I contacted the artist. Her name is Maggie Umber and she graciously granted me an interview for the blog.

Umber is a professional artist. Her interest in art began at a young age - from 3rd to 6th grade, she took after-school and Saturday art classes. She tutored kids in drawing throughout middle school and began selling paintings in high school. A graduate of Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, MN, she went on to earn a B.A. in Studio Arts with a focus on intaglio printmaking from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. She is now a cartoonist, freelance artist, and associate publisher at the comic book company, 2dcloud.

Umber learned about Beauford because her mother is a fan of his work. She took Umber to see Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 2004.

As a result, Umber says she often goes to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see displays of Beauford’s work. She talked about the untitled abstract oil raincoat painting that is framed in a case away from the wall that is on permanent display. She also reported that Jazz Quartet is on display again.

She said that Beauford's Untitled (Washington Square Park) "comes and goes," along with his mixed media Self-Portrait, Yaddo. She also mentioned that the Georgia O’Keefe portrait of Beauford that is on a long-term loan to the museum wasn't being displayed at the time of our interview.

I asked Umber what she likes about Beauford's work. She responded:

I like the thickness and heavy texture of his paint application and his vivid color palette! His paintings are bold and expressive and his compositions are dynamic. His paintings pop off the walls with their powerful energy!

Umber says she was inspired by Beauford's painting style when she did his portrait. But she says the painting still looks like her style, not as much like Beauford's style as she would like.

She believes that painting from another artist’s work is a good way to learn because "they make choices that you would never think of and it makes you realize your habits."

Umber selected the colors and for the portrait after doing a Google search and finding images of Beauford’s self-portrait from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago "It is such a great painting and the colors!!!" she says.

Oil on canvas (1944)
Art Institute of Chicago
© Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator

She modeled the attire from the photo that was possibly taken of Beauford at his easel by Gjon Mili.

Portrait of Beauford Delaney
(ca. 1950)
Possibly by Gjon Mili

Umber's love of portraiture stems from her high school and college years. Her passion for subjects of African descent began when she was commissioned to do a portrait of Bob Marley.

Fifteen years later, as the associate publisher of 2dcloud and a freelance artist, this passion persists - she did three brush pen portraits of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Moms Mabley and Billie Holiday during Black History Month 2016. She decided that she wants to do a series of these paintings every February:

This year I decided to do watercolor portraits. My mom said, “You better paint Beauford Delaney!” But I had already put him on my list. I had done a portrait of James Baldwin inspired by the colors from Beauford’s portrait of him from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Portrait of James Baldwin
(1945) Oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art
© Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator

Portrait of James Baldwin
Maggie Umber
(2017) Watercolor on rough paper

I love Beauford's painting and I wanted to learn more about him. I would like to do a lot of portraits of visual artists for my Black History Month series. I wish that there had been more of a focus on African American artists in the books, classes and museums when I was growing up and learning to be a painter.

I painted Beauford's portrait on Thursday night, February 16, 2017. For most of the portraits in the watercolor series I penciled in the portrait first. But for this painting I just went straight to paint.

See more of Umber's 2017 Black History Month watercolors HERE.

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