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!



Thursday, April 29, 2010

"You've Got the Eye"

In a recent posting of an anecdote about Beauford, Burt Reinfrank indicated that Beauford would frequently say to Burt, "You've got the eye."

While this may have been true in the context that Beauford was speaking—Burt could easily distinguish original Delaneys from copies or fraudulent pieces)—in fact, it is Beauford who “had the eye.” Whether or not he knew it consciously, we may never know. But one can certainly see it in his paintings, and particularly in his self-portraits.

In Beauford’s formative years as an artist, capturing likeness was his primary goal in portraiture. But during his New York years, he began to take painterly liberties with his portraits of Harlem residents, and in his Paris years, his portraits of others reflected his increasing concern with color and the “inner light” of his subjects in opposition to likeness. Author David Leeming cites an example of this attitude in Amazing Grace, the only biography of Beauford in print thus far. In an exchange between Beauford and Elwood Peterson regarding Peterson’s portrait, Beauford states:
If you wanted an exact likeness you could have gone to a photographer…when you sing you become eighteen again, and that’s what I wanted to capture.
Peterson offered to buy the painting, but Beauford refused payment, giving the painting to his subject instead.

Sue Canterbury, curator of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts exposition entitled Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris, states in her essay on Beauford’s life and work that “One eye sees without; the other within.” She elaborated on this comment for today’s blog posting, saying that she wished to draw attention to the difference between two types of vision that one might attribute to Beauford—one being the reading of external phenomena, and the other, reading/seeing on a deeper plane of meaning that one might call that spiritual or cosmic. Burt Reinfrank, a great friend of Beauford and a contributor to this blog, believes that Beauford was connected to humanity in a way that transcends our worldly consciousness, and stated that Beauford often spoke of “the cosmos.”

In looking at a series of Beauford’s self-portraits, the astute observer will note that there is often asymmetry in Beauford’s eyes. This irregularity differs from portrait to portrait, and is not a reflection of any physical disfigurement in Beauford’s face.  Perhaps this is Beauford's way, consciously or subconsciously, of depicting the two types of vision described above.

In his 1944 self-portrait, Beauford has represented his right eye as being entirely white. His left eye is larger than the right, rhomboid in shape, and one gets the impression that it has no lid. The pupil is light-colored and the surrounding iris black.  In his 1950 self-portrait, it is the right eye that is smaller, with a black iris and no apparent pupil, while the left eye is a grayish tan with a clear tan iris and a dark pupil.

In his 1964 self-portrait, Beauford had retained the proportions that he used in his 1950 self-portrait. His face is gaunt, making the white of the almond-shaped left eye seem sunken in and the white of that eye more gleaming.

Oil on canvas (1964)
Collection of the Reinfrank Family

In his 1972 portrait, he returns to marked asymmetry, this time accentuated by the fullness of his face. The left eye is larger and higher than the right, the iris is thin and the pupil large and light-colored—even mottled.

Gouache on paper (1972)
Collection of David Leeming

Catherine St. John, a professor at Berkeley College in New Jersey and author of the essay “A Narrative of Belonging: The Art of Beauford Delaney and Glen Ligon,” describes the white eye in the 1944 self-portrait as “vacant,” and refers to the “monocular stare” that philosopher Jacques Derrida evoked in his Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins – “a single eye open and fixed firmly on its own image, seeing nothing, nothing but an eye which prevents it from seeing anything at all.” St. John poses the rhetorical question “Are Delaney’s self-portraits attempts to find his own identity in his own image?”

In my opinion, Beauford’s numerous self-portraits are some of his most extraordinary oeuvre. (The ones presented here are but a few of them.)  I encourage you to search for images of these works on line or to view them in person at museums and judge for yourself.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Beauford and the Civil Rights Movement

This month, we commemorate the forty-second anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King was a well-respected figure in France as leader of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.  Two years ago, to mark the fortieth anniversary of his death, the city of Paris named a park in his honor.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photo from the collection of the Library of Congress

Numerous African Americans lived in Paris during the Civil Rights Movement, including Beauford.  His dear friend James Baldwin would return to the U.S. to take up the cause firsthand. Beauford encouraged Baldwin in this endeavor, and wrote admiringly of an essay called "Letter from a Region of My Mind" that would later appear in Baldwin's book The Fire Next Time.  On the Minneapolis Museum of Art Web site that features the 2004-2005 exposition of Beauford's works called Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris, part of the description of Beauford's portrait of Baldwin entitled The Sage Black (1967) reads as follows:

Filled with all the colors of a flame, this incendiary, combustible background peers through Baldwin's form, conveying the passion and fire that was such an integral part of the author who penned, just a few years before, the foreboding essay titled The Fire Next Time.

Baldwin visited Beauford in December 1962 and May 1963, and the two discussed the latest news regarding the movement in the States.  These discussions inspired Beauford to create his "Rosa Parks Series" - a number of paintings portraying a black woman sitting on a bench, either alone or with a white woman.  The Leeming biography of Beauford indicates that the first sketch depicted Mrs. Parks sitting in a bus next to the words "I will not be moved."

Beauford Delaney (1901-1979) 
Rosa Parks, 1967
oil on canvas
31 3/4" x 25 1/2 "
Estate of Beauford Delaney, Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

Beauford wrote to Henry Miller about the movement in 1963, stating that his spirit was with the struggle and that "my prayers are with all the Blacks and Whites that they find the power and patience...to join in the nobler human dignity of sharing and existing together in peace."  He would address Miller on the same topic in 1967, saying that he was interested in painting "portraits of Negroes in my fashion."  He created several portraits of African Americans during the mid-60s, including Richard Long and Marian Anderson, as a result of this inspiration.

David Leeming states in his biography that Dr. King's assassination in 1968 had a "disastrous effect" on Beauford's mental health, and the student riots that subsequently occurred in Paris further upset his equilibrium.  His friend Bernard Hassell eventually took him to the south of France for a six-week period, during which Beauford's psychological state improved greatly.  The tumultuous year ended well, with Beauford being awarded a grant by the National Council for the Arts.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Remembrances of Beauford Delaney

An Anecdote by Burton Reinfrank

When I visited Beauford, we usually discussed art:  the latest gallery shows, the State-sponsored shows at the national museums, etc.  One comment Beauford often made to me during these discussions was "You've got the eye."  I sometimes still hear Beauford's low, resonant voice saying it today.

We were discussing gallery shows and Beauford said "Have you been by the Facchetti Gallery lately?"  I said I had not.  (By this time - 1965 - Beauford had severed all contact with the Facchettis.)  He said that two days before, he had walked by their gallery and saw through the window several large paintings on the wall, ostensibly by him.  Beauford wasn't sure that Facchetti wasn't having someone do paintings in his style.  He said, "Burt, you know my work well.  Would you mind going by the gallery and have a look at my paintings and tell me what you think?"  I said that I would.

 Beauford at one of his expositions at the 
Paul Facchetti Gallery
© Paul Facchetti

I went to the gallery and had a good look, and reported back that the paintings were certainly by him.  Beauford accepted this and never mentioned the subject again.

In 2005, I told this story to Paul Facchetti, who was then 92 years old.  His response was, "Why would I have had paintings made in his style when I couldn't sell the ones I had?"

Burton Reinfrank was a long-time friend of Beauford from the Paris years.  See the posting "Burt and Pat Reinfrank Remember Beauford" to learn more about their special relationship.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

U.S. Ambassador Rivkin Gives Us His Support!

Shortly after I founded Les Amis de Beauford Delaney, I contacted the Cultural Affairs office of the U.S. Embassy in Paris to inform them of our project and to see what help they could provide.  I spoke with Assistant Cultural Affairs officer Jennifer Bullock, who has been my contact, and a great ally, ever since.

One of the things that we discussed was whether or not Les Amis would be able to get the Ambassador Rivkin's support for our project.  Ms. Bullock told me that she would send a request to the Ambassador's office.  It took several weeks, but I eventually received a warm and encouraging missive from the Ambassador himself! 

The Honorable Charles H. Rivkin
U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco
Photo from U.S. Embassy Web site

I am so pleased with the tone and content of this letter that I want to share it with you.  See the text, in its entirety, below:
Dear Ms. Wells,
I congratulate you on your founding of the association, Les Amis de Beauford Delaney, which aims to preserve and honor the legacy of this important figure in twentieth century French and American art. Your association, which seeks in particular to place a monument on his final resting place in the Thiais cemetery, is maintaining the memory of a unique artist, whose life serves as an inspiration, and whose work, in addition to its aesthetic value, serves to preserve a special period in the history of both the United States and France.
As you well know, Beauford Delaney, a close friend of James Baldwin, produced work that is now part of both French and American cultural heritage.   Delaney overcame poverty and the restrictions of segregation, following his dream to Paris, where he was able to paint and live freely in a culture that valued his work.
His work, which hangs in French embassies in Taiwan and Costa Rica as well as in U.S. museums such as the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, documents America in the 1930s and 40s, as well as American expatriate life in France.  He later created beautiful abstract canvases celebrating color and light.
Delaney’s legacy therefore ought to be preserved and honored. Once again, I applaud your efforts and offer you my best wishes for the success of your association.

                                               Charles H. Rivkin

Oil on canvas (1966)
French Embassy of Taipai, Taiwan

The Cultural Affairs office has encouraged me to attach this letter to fundraising appeals to indicate to potential contributors to the gravesite fund that the U.S. government supports Les Amis de Beauford Delaney.  This is exactly what I am doing.  I have written to corporate entities such as the New York Stock Exchange, museums and university art departments that currently own or have previously shown Beauford's works, and galleries that sell his works to ask them to support our cause.  My hope is that these letters, in addition to this blog and the media releases that I publish, will serve to increase awareness of Beauford and his art as well as encourage donations in support of our cause.

We are now just beneath the $3000 mark in our fund.  Once again, my humble and sincere thanks to those of you who have contributed thus far.  I am planning to recognize our donors by placing a list of their names in the right margin of the blog.  I will ask each donor's permission to publicly acknowledge him or her prior to creating the list.  Look for it to appear soon!

If you have not yet contributed, I vigorously encourage you to do so!  We still need $5500 to reach our fundraising goal for 2010. 

President, Les Amis de Beauford Delaney

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Richard A. Long and Beauford Delaney

Richard A. Long is Atticus Haygood Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Emeritus, at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He was a personal friend of Beauford, and contributed to the birthday tribute that was posted on this blog on 30 December 2009. Here, in his words, is the story of his relationship with Beauford:

I first became acquainted with the name and work of Beauford around 1947. He had been the featured artist in the annual Pyramid Club Show, an event organized by the artists Dox Thrash and Humbert Howard. I did not attend the show, but of the few paintings sold, two were bought by Philadelphian Dorothy Warrick. I saw them and heard about Beauford upon visiting the Warrick family home in Germantown that Dorothy shared with her sister Marie. The Warrick sisters were the nieces of the sculptor Meta Warrick Fuller, whom I later met at their home. Their collection included work by a number of Philadelphia artists—Allan Freelon, John Abele, Henry Jones, and particularly, Laura Wheeler Waring. The almost brutal expressionism of the Delaney paintings posed quite a contrast to the calm visual language of the Philadelphians and was the subject of much discussion. There were those who thought that Dorothy had gone too far, inflicting on the sober décor of Warrick antiques and porcelain a New York state of mind. Dorothy, who had always been an independent spirit, had felt vindicated by a visit from Alain Locke who approved her selection. Subsequent to her purchase, Dorothy had visited Beauford’s studio in Greenwich Village, a trip that she described to me on several occasions.

I heard about Beauford over the years and saw several of his paintings, but I did not meet him until I began a year’s residence in Paris in 1957. I had encountered the composer Howard Swanson, who told me that Beauford was living in the Paris suburb of Clamart and offered to take me there for a visit. On a typically dreamy Sunday afternoon we went to see Beauford for a visit that stretched into several hours. This enabled me to view the transformation that Beauford’s paintings had undergone since his arrival in Paris some years before.

During the subsequent year I saw Beauford often, usually in St. Germain-des-Pres. I spent another year in France beginning in the fall of 1964, during which I saw Beauford frequently at his studio in Rue Vercingétorix. I sat for portraits--one in pastel and one in oil-- off and on in 1964 and 1965 during my visits to Paris from Poitiers, where I was working on my dissertation. It was in 1965 that Beauford did the oil portrait of me, which is now on view at the High Museum.

Portrait of Richard A. Long
Oil on canvas (1965)
High Museum of Art

Beginning in 1966, I spent most of my summers in Paris for several years. Most of my visits to Beauford were at his studio, though from time to time we sat in various cafes, including the Flore. On one or two occasions we visited museums together, notably the fairly new Monet installation at the Marmottan. We often discussed many aspects of American life and culture, as well as my idea for the organization of a major exhibition of his work.

Cafe de Flore
© Discover Paris!

This was realized in a large exhibition that I curated for the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1978, which was unfortunately too late for Beauford to have an awareness of what was happening.

I made a gift of the Beauford portrait to the High Museum in 2001. The director decided to organize a Beauford Delaney show featuring the painting, and he called upon a former student of mine, Richard J. Powell of Duke University, to curate it. Hence, “Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow” came into being. The catalog included a poem I had dedicated to Beauford and which was the title poem of my volume, Ascending and Other Poems.

The Color Yellow - Catalog Cover
© Roberta Boyea "Basement Book Store"