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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Beauford in Ink

From what I've seen over the years, Beauford rarely used ink when he created colored abstract works on paper. Because of a recent inquiry regarding the sale of one of his paintings from Darthea Speyer's collection at Christie's in Paris in 2010, I was reminded of this beautiful work on paper, which was sold at the same auction.

(1961) Ink, inkwash, and aquarelle on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Beauford signed and dated this work and dedicated it as follows:

"Mallorca 1961 for miss Darthea Speyer"

Beauford traveled to San Telmo in Mallorca in late August 1961 with Charley and Gita Boggs; their son, Gordon, and Joe and Bernice O'Reilly. The Boggses were dear, long-time friends who had sent out a plea for funds to pay for Beauford's medical expenses after his mental breakdown in Greece the month before. They took responsibility for him upon his return to France while they and other friends sought a solution for his precarious physical and mental state. Beauford had traveled to Greece to meet Darthea Speyer; it was she who organized his medical care in Greece and his return to France.

From biographer David Leeming's account of this trip in Amazing Grace, we know that Beauford was soothed by the company of Gita and Bernice and that he "even began to do some watercolors."

In this work, the brilliant yellow background is overlaid by wide, irregular, sinuous bands of black with smudged to feathery edges, some of which are tinged with blue and / or outlined in white. These latter areas almost seem electric. Perhaps we can interpret the black bands as the darkness that permeated his spirit during these difficult days and the "electric" zones as sparks of hope that he would once again feel whole and happy in the light represented by the yellow backdrop.

The only other colored ink abstract work that I recall seeing was shown in the 2016 Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition in Paris.

(1956) Inks on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

1956 was the first year Beauford stayed in Clamart. Richard A. Long, who organized the first retrospective of Beauford’s work at the Studio Museum of Harlem in 1978, described works from this period as being characterized “either by a somber palette or by the sheer power of clashing color masses”.

Here, we are clearly in the realm of the latter. The red mass in the center of the paper projects boldly upward at a slight angle, while the tortuous, underlying black mass leads the eye downward in opposition. The red mass seems rigid and inanimate, while the black seems fluid, even serpentine, with the head of the coiled snake poised to strike.

Swaths of lighter color soften the work while simultaneously enhancing the contrast between its two main thrusts of energy, each of which represents power in a different form.

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