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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Café Scene, 1966: The Beautiful in the Mundane

By Hanna Gressler

The comparison between Beauford’s earlier paintings, including his early portraits, and the works of art from later in his life depicts an evolution toward the abstract, in which conventional rules are abandoned and the human spirit is discovered through a new use of shapes and colors.    ~Hanna Gressler

I was first introduced to the artist Beauford Delaney by Dr. Monique Wells. As she told me about his life in Paris and I scanned images of his art, I was immediately taken by Beauford’s complex use of color to express meaning and a sense of wholeness in his paintings.

Flipping through images of his artwork, the painting Café Scene (1966) caught my eye due to the bright yellow that almost shines a light in your face.

When Dr. Wells asked me to write a post about Beauford for the Les Amis blog, I felt inspired to investigate what provoked my strong reaction in order to discover the painting’s deeper meaning. So, follow me through this step by step spiritual experience of what it is like to be faced with a painting by Beauford Delaney.

Café Scene - hung in the Grande Salle at the 2016
Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition in Paris
Photo by Sophia Pagan Photography

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

At first glance, your eyes are drawn to Café Scene’s predominant yellow hues. Suddenly, you are engulfed by a yellow light that emits a sense of warmth. Then you begin to gradually discern the lines of bodies gathered closely together, but not touching one another. The vague outline of these bodies evokes the simplicity of their character and their humanity. Although the people do not have distinct faces, the warmth of the yellow makes you feel welcomed in their environment, as if you are one of them.

Beauford gives us a glimpse into the lives of marginal people, whose beauty is expressed through the yellow light rather than their physical bodies. In doing so, he reveals a universal humanity that connects us to the world around us.

Next, you notice the fireplace, your point of perspective naturally drawn to the left-hand corner where the walls of the café come together. Like you, the people in the café are also drawn to the fireplace, their source of heat. The fireplace stretches all the way to the top of the ceiling, creating a sense of dimension in the image that allows you to be placed into the world of the café, among its other shapes and bodies.

Café Scene - detail (fireplace)
(1966) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Looking more closely, the floor of the café extends all the way toward the right-hand-side of the painting, as if inviting you to step in and join the other people. Here, the sources of heat are not only the yellow light and the fireplace, but also the sense of welcome and familiarity that they evoke. A mundane scene is portrayed as a beautiful environment. Beauford is letting us know that light and beauty can be found even in the dirtiest of corners and the darkest of alleyways.

Café Scene - detail (floor)
(1966) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

This painting is not unlike others by Beauford. In his art, there are no precise lines - only an abstract vision like that of a memory lying deep in the unconscious. In Café Scene, he accesses the darkness of the world and chooses to reflect the inner light of his subjects, rather than their physical attributes. The painting evokes a spiritual level of meaning that engages our humanity and calls for a certain transcendence.

As I continue to look at this painting, its yellow light glowing, I gain a new perspective of the world and myself. Beauford’s art allows you to see the world through his eyes, where terror exists alongside beauty, and where we must engage in a lifelong struggle to balance the two.

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.

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