Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is supporting the completion of


the first full-length documentary about Beauford.

Join us in making this video tribute to Beauford a reality!



Saturday, February 1, 2020

An Eruption of Creativity – An Interview with Gary Elgin

This week, I'm pleased to share an interview with Gary Elgin, an artist who adopted the city of Knoxville as his own and who feels kinship with Beauford's life and work.

Gary Elgin
Image courtesy of Gary Elgin

Les Amis: Tell us a little about yourself.
GE: I'm a transplanted Knoxvillian, having been born in Chicago, Illinois in 1962. Adopted by two loving parents, who always encouraged every creative avenue I wanted to explore. I always exhibited visual artistic talents from the time I could hold a crayon, but I was a late bloomer in other aspects of life only coming out at age 30.

Les Amis: You describe yourself as a queer portrait painter. Does this mean that you are queer and you paint portraits, that you paint portraits of queer people, or both?
GE: First I guess I should explain My embrace of the word queer. This word has had a checkered past both in and outside the LGBTQ community. I have embraced it from almost day one of my identifying as 'other than'. Although I identify as 'gay' I find the more inclusive term queer to be preferable. I have been a visual artist nearly all my life, but I would have to admit that my queer nature has always, whether I knew it or not, informed my art. If not in subject matter, in energy or color or style. It has to.

Les Amis: What drew you to portrait painting?
GE: I honestly couldn't say. I have always since the very beginnings been attracted to faces! One of my more recent exhibits was entitled "Familiar Faces" (one of the key pieces was coincidentally a portrait of James Baldwin that now is in the collection of the Knoxville Public Library system at the Burlington Branch). I've always been fascinated with faces and eyes.

Les Amis:
Do you paint things other than portraits?
GE: Oh yes! I particularly enjoy painting owls, animals of all sorts and clowns (I was a professional performing clown from about 1982 to 2001).

Les Amis: You discovered Beauford’s art at a KMA exhibition upon moving to Knoxville in 1992. If you can remember the paintings by him that you saw during that show, please describe them.
GE: I honestly do not remember the first pieces I saw other than to say they were striking... Passionate... and seemingly an eruption of creativity. His portraits evoked emotions in me… this is before ever reading anything about his life or his challenges. When I first saw his 1944 "Portrait of James Baldwin," I felt an instant connection. On a very deep level.

Portrait of James Baldwin
(1944) Pastel on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Les Amis:
Perhaps you are aware of the digital exhibition that celebrates Beauford’s portraiture. What are your thoughts about the evolution of his portraits over the years?
GE: I find his early portraits steeped in realism and exactness are very similar to how many of us begin painting, before we give ourselves permission to are creative true selves.

Les Amis: In what way(s) has Beauford’s art influenced yours?
GE: He (it) gave me “permission.”

Les Amis: Have you ever done a self-portrait?
GE: HAVE I !!!??? (laughs) in 1989, I had amassed an extensive collection of self-portraits. I launched an exhibit and paired them with journal entries that appeared appropriate. "Long, Hard Looks Inside: Portraits of a Gay Life" was a very satisfying exhibit for me. It enabled me to get a lot of junk out of my system.

Les Amis: Have you ever done a portrait of Beauford?
GE: Started, but not yet completed.

Les Amis: Perhaps you’ve seen Beauford’s 1944 self-portrait at the Art Institute of Chicago. How would you describe this work?
GE: To me, it seems to be influenced by Vincent van Gogh's "Portrait of a Young Man". Although I understand the resemblance to a self-portrait by Matisse. The arched eyebrow and penetrating gaze draws the audience in.

Les Amis: In what way has Beauford’s story inspired you?
GE: His courage. Through all of his trials and tribulations with his inner voices... He still had what I would consider to be courage and that is expressed through his work.

Les Amis: How well would you say his life and work are known in the LGBTQ community – locally or nationally?
GE: Sadly, I would say it is not as well-known especially locally. I believe that will change with this upcoming exhibit. The energy and resources Knoxville has put toward this latest collection of events will certainly catch the attention of even the casual observer.

Les Amis: Are you using his story or his art as part of your activist activities?
GE: Most of my activist activities happened from 1992 to 2005 and I can definitely say he as well as James Baldwin heavily influenced how I went about my work.

Les Amis: If so, in what way?
GE: I did my utmost to represent the LGBTQ community in a professional and upstanding manner. Even in the most heated moments, I did my best to stay polite, soft-spoken and yet direct. I also kept a creative thread through each of the activities and social actions we participated in.

Les Amis:
Any final thoughts?
GE: I am thrilled to be living in Beauford & Joseph Delaney's hometown and have lived to be able to see them celebrated in such a grand way! It is much deserved.

No comments: