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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Beauford's Paris: Cité Falguière

Cité Falguière, viewed from the end of the impasse
© Ralf.treinen
Creative Commons License

Cité Falguière is an impasse located near the rear of the Montparnasse train station in the 15th arrondissement. Less than ten-minute's walk from the location of Beauford's last studio on rue Vercingétorix, it was constructed as a series of 30 ateliers for artists during the late 19th century. Urban renewal of the impasse began in the 1960s and of the original structures, only Numbers 9 and 11 remain standing today (shown above). Both buildings continue to house artists' studios.

One of Beauford's dearest friends, Charley Boggs, lived in a small studio at 5, cité Falguière. Boggs was a painter whom Beauford met during his first few weeks in Paris in 1953; the two men became close when Boggs brought Beauford chicken broth while Beauford was suffering from the flu in October of that year. Boggs, his wife Gita, and their son Gordon, became a surrogate family for Beauford, but Boggs and his wife had separated by the time he moved to the Cité.

Beauford would visit Boggs frequently at his studio and would often sleep in the loft there during the early 1970s. For a brief time in 1969, Beauford rented a studio near Cité Falguière in which to store his paintings.

Beauford would undoubtedly have been thrilled to know that Ecole de Paris painter Amadeo Modigliani had a studio at Cité Falguière (Number 14). Modigliani's name was found on one of Beauford's sketchbook journals dating from the early 1940s in connection with Beauford's studies on the use of color. Other well known artists from Modigliani's era who lived and worked at the Cité were Chaim Soutine (Number 11), Tsuguharu Foujita, and Constantin Brancusi (whom Beauford knew personally).

African-American painters Ed Clark (a personal friend of Beauford) and Sylvester Britton also worked in studios at Cité Falguière after the Second World War.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Beauford in Provence

As events begin to unfold in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I am reminded of a brief anecdote in Beauford's biography, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney. Author David Leeming describes how Beauford traveled to the town of Solliès Toucas, in the region of Provence in southern France, to spend time with friends Bernard Hassell, Richard Olney, and Mary Painter. He indicates that

Beauford painted a great deal and, as always, enjoyed the sun, but was upset at missing James Baldwin's quick visit to Paris to gather expatriate support for the March on Washington.

In previous posts on this blog, I published images of paintings by Beauford that bear the name (although misspelled) of this Provençal town. One of them is dated 1963 and the other is undated:

Sollis Toucan 
(1963) Oil on canvas
Signed, dated and titled, on the stretcher
16 3/8 x 13 inches
© Estate of Beauford Delaney,
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Soullis Toucas
(Beauford's gift to Roy Freeman)
Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney,
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Undoubtedly, one of them was painted during the time of Baldwin's visit to Paris. Given the similarity of the two works, the other may well have been painted during the same trip.

To read the articles in which these images were first published, click on the links below:

Where to Find Beauford's Art: Ink Miami Art Fair - Aaron Galleries
Roy Freeman Remembers Beauford

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Many Sidedness of Beauford Delaney's Art: Commentary

Last week, I published "The Many Sidedness of Beauford Delaney's Art," an article by Dr. Catherine St. John that discusses Beauford's art in the context of the recent solo exposition Beauford Delaney: Internal Light at the Jim Levis Gallery. Today, I bring you comments on that article by Sylvain Briet - an art expert and the brother of the late Philippe Briet, a French gallery owner and publisher who was passionate about the work of Beauford Delaney. The Briet brothers operated the Philippe Briet Gallery in SoHo, Manhattan in the late 1980s and mounted two retrospectives of Beauford's works.


My remarks are not about Catherine Saint John's vision of the art of Beauford Delaney, which is by far more interesting than many writings published for decades. I believe in her talent in understanding Beauford's work, as my late brother did. She is a true friend and my comments are not meant to give her discrédit (discredit). But there are some points that needed some éclaircissement (clarification, explanation), as we say in French:

Catherine St. John (CSJ) wrote "...artists living abroad were more apt to explore diversity in an environment where a traditional art market was absent." I wonder why she says that, since by the early 1950s numerous art magazines were active in France, such as La Gazette des Beaux-Arts (1859-2002), Cimaise (1953 to present), L'Œil (January 1955 to present), Connaissance des Arts (1952 to present), Jardin des Arts (1954 to present), Cahiers d'Art (1926-1960), and XXe Siècle (1938-1974). There were also hundreds of galleries already in Paris. When I checked in an issue of Cimaise dating from 1956, I was able to see ads for American, Italian and English galleries. There's even a section with the articles translated into English.

The famous auction house Hôtel Drouot was inaugurated in Paris in 1852 and is still a flourishing business. The auctioneer House of Paris was created in 1801. Sotheby's had its first sale in the U.S. in 1955 and opened an office in Paris in 1967. Christie's in New York didn't have its first auction before 1977, and its first in Paris in 2002. And of course, until 1964 and that now famous Venice Biennal that awarded Rauschenberg, all the art American people were interested in was coming from Europe, and particularly France. So there was a strong art market when Beauford arrived in France.

The thing about Beauford was that he was in his own mental world, creating, and not interested in the art business. Also, he didn't have a partner to take care of his business. When he didn't give his works as presents to friends, he sold them for survival and to be able to produce more works. If he had had a close friend for promoting his art, his life would have been totally different.

CSJ's reference to the traditional art market was derived from an article on Gerhard Richter in Art Journal "that took into consideration a wider continental art market." One sure point is that we can't write generalities on a specific subject. And knowing the French and American culture is "indispensable" in understanding the time when Beauford Delaney was living! So, when it is written "where a traditional art market was absent," this is absolutely wrong. The image below provides evidence:

An auction in Paris including paintings and jewels, in April 1748
Image courtesy of Sylvain Briet

On another note, CSJ uses the expression "modest in size" about Beauford Delaney's paintings. As if the painter was not able to buy and then to create paintings on a larger scale, and as if this would be such a disadvantage in his career. There is nothing in them that makes them modest anyway, because size has nothing to do with quality. Dürer has never done paintings 7 meters long as did Cy Tombly and Rauschenberg. Neither did Van Gogh or Vermeer. Some people need to show big work to be seen!!!

"Modest" has a negative connotation. And the abstract paintings, the yellow ones we exhibited in New York, were not small.

I think that to imagine that Beauford was not able to buy large canvases is a false problem. I believe that he was comfortable creating works that were adapted to his natural gestures and movements and in concert with the development of his ideas. These works need not have been gigantic.

CSJ also mentions that "Untitled: Abstract in Black, Calligraphic Lines with Red, Diptych, probably completed in 1956, was inspired by an invitation from painter Larry Calcagno to join him on a trip to Ibiza, Spain." More precisely, the work was completed in Ibiza in August 1956, during a trip with painter Larry Calcagno. The name of the island is featured on the work.

It is interesting to see that the Jim Levis Gallery has put the works together, when apparently Beauford decided to make two works from the original one, signing each part. When put exactly next to each other, one can verify that Beauford reframed each part, eliminating some surface, whether on the top (work on the left) or on the bottom (work on the right).

Composite image of Untitled: Abstract in Black, Calligraphic Lines with Red, Diptych by Sylvain Briet
© Estate of Beauford Delaney,
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

If some criticism could be made regarding the Jim Levis installation of the exhibition, it is that there is no pertinence in having the portraits presented in between abstract works.

Beauford Delaney: Internal Light
Levis Fine Art
Image courtesy of Levis Fine Art

It is as though Levis didn't believe in the portraits by themselves and thought that displaying an abstract painting next to a portrait would help people to see or to understand and be more likely to purchase the portrait! It is not a proper way to present the paintings to serve the artist.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Many Sidedness of Beauford Delaney’s Art

Catherine St. John, Doctor of Arts at Berkeley College, brings us another review of Beauford’s work as she saw it at the recent solo exposition Beauford Delaney: Internal Light at Levis Fine Art Gallery in New York.


Beauford Delaney produced paintings that demonstrate a multiplicity of approaches, a way of working characteristic of much postwar European art. The many sidedness of his art was clearly visible before he left New York City for Paris in 1953 and while American artists often became tied to a “signature” style, artists living abroad were more apt to explore diversity in an environment where a traditional art market was absent. Delaney’s work opens up new avenues for thinking about creativity. His range emphasizes difference which, properly understood, reveals continuity.

For Beauford Delaney, art was an internal necessity. Art mattered greatly to him and it can be said that his visually absorbing paintings reflect his own identity as a human being. The major stimulus of his work is the act of painting. His work speaks to the continual relevance of paint and canvas. He explores the boundaries between representational and abstract modes, which need not be inconsistent. There is a sense of intimacy, a truth to his pictorial gestures. His marks and lines give depth to flatness, bending form to the needs of inner content. Lightness seems to emanate from within the surface of his paintings and comes towards us, an inner illumination and spirit, especially noticed in his rich yellow grounds.

There is much to be gained from repeated looking at Delaney’s art of the 1950s and 60s at Levis Fine Art. On entering the exhibit Beauford Delaney: Internal Light in the gallery on West 24th Street in Chelsea, New York, we discover the recurring balance between the profound humanity of Delaney himself and the products of imagination that unfolded from his mind’s eye. His spirit and the world around him are experienced in paintings modest in size, scaled to small studios. With a range of formal complexity, richly colored threads of paint are interwoven in both quietly contemplative portraits and alternate abstractions, suggesting layers of absent selves.

In selecting two specific paintings from more than two dozen to discuss, viewers are offered a recognizable sensibility as well as an opportunity to observe Beauford Delaney’s working methods. Suggestive of drawing, perhaps the most abstract medium of art, both seem like writing. Composites of strokes give the paintings surface unity.

Untitled: Abstract in Black, Calligraphic Lines with Red, Diptych, probably completed in 1956, was inspired by an invitation from painter Larry Calcagno to join him on a trip to Ibiza, Spain. It is a gouache with thinly worked red color accents that seem to be lit from behind. Areas of wove paper show through. We also see in the overlapping ovals in black, perhaps a figure eight or spiral, a striking formal repetition that adds an aspect of coherence to his works and reveal the momentum of his brush in response to impulse.

Untitled: Abstract in Black, Calligraphic Lines with Red, Diptych
(ca. 1956) Gouache on wove paper
Signed lower left and lower right
© Estate of Beauford Delaney,
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator
Image supplied by Levis Fine Art*

Also gouache on wove paper, Untitled: Abstract in Red, Green, Ochre and Black was completed in 1962. It is a bold, modernist flat painting. As seen in synthetic cubism, planar segments of red and green overlap in some places and fit together in others. Strokes in varying directions extend the viewer’s attention across the painted surface. There are no defined focal points but it is possible to discern an implied human or figural presence in the drawn lines that emerge in black strokes from the maze of flat areas of the color complements. Delaney’s lines and shapes interlace with a sureness of paint application.

Untitled: Abstract in Red, Green, Ochre and Black
(1962) Gouache on wove paper
Signed and dated lower right, Paris
© Estate of Beauford Delaney,
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator
Image supplied by Levis Fine Art Gallery*

Not exhibited chronologically, we sense in the paintings on display an all encompassing awakening of consciousness, his visual presence revealed over time by his dynamic range of marks both actual and conceptual. The reverence with which he handles paint engages viewers physically. There is a mastery of the artist’s craft. In more than two dozen paintings, we experience the material truth of color and gesture, each with a sense of individual character and an immediacy that casts its own mood. Lines and shapes are interlocked, invested with subjective perception.

There are four portraits in the exhibit. Done with great candor, they offer the inward qualities that Beauford Delaney discovered in his subjects. The same energetic paint handling that we observe in his non-figurative works can be seen in the portraits. Suggestive of the lives behind the faces they are, in essence, a collective narrative from which the emergent history of his time and place can be written. The portraits aid in illuminating the origins of this artist’s emotionally and intellectually resonant, profoundly human work. Can these paintings of aesthetic, historical and social significance be intellectualized or are their meanings too deep?

In closing, the poem “Description” by Christopher Stackhouse published in Plural (Counterpath Press, 2012) introduces lexical units of short phrases in which readers must look for connecting threads:

Af-am contribution to Abstraction, variation
    Pattern making, smallness versus the typified
    ‘Grand gesture’, to write as one draws, geometric
    Lines, subsets confined and confirmed by points
Beauford Delaney, Edward Bannister, Gerhard Richter
    Ellsworth Kelly’s yellow square, infinities of touch

Can these lines provide a path toward a greater understanding of Beauford Delaney’s art?

To read additional contributions by Dr. St. John to the Les Amis blog, click on the links below:

Beauford’s Portraits of James Baldwin – Part 1
Beauford’s Portraits of James Baldwin – Part 2
Where to Find Beauford’s Art: Hampton University Museum

*Levis Fine Art, Inc.
514 West 24th St., 3-W
New York, NY 10011
Member of Fine Art Dealers Association (FADA)
Contact: Jim Levis
T: 646-620-5000

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Danny Simmons on Beauford Delaney

Danny Simmons is a contemporary, self-proclaimed, “neo-African abstract expressionist” painter as well as an author and television producer (Def Poetry Jam). Hailing from Queens, NY, he is a co-founder of Rush Galleries and co-founder and vice president of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. He graciously granted Les Amis an interview about Beauford and the Beauford Delaney work that is part of his private art collection.


Les Amis: When and how did you learn about Beauford Delaney?

DS: I learned about Delaney's work about ten years ago at the black fine art show...one of the older established galleries had a few pieces for sale...I was intrigued by his abstraction. ..at the time I’d only seen figurative work by many of the artists of that period.

Les Amis: How would you describe his work?

DS: Well the work I’m most familiar with is mostly expressionist abstraction. I admit I’m not that well versed on his whole body of work. But in some of his figurative work I admire that he incorporated African images into the paintings . . . also his use of paint . . .how he thickly applied it . . . his portraits were soulful and captured the essence of his subjects.

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother
(1930) Pencil, ink and watercolor on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney,
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Les Amis: You are a “neo-African abstract expressionist” painter. What does this mean?

DS: What I meant when I coined that term many years ago is that I try to channel the intent and spiritual feeling of traditional African art and allow it to influence the abstract images that I paint. African art was created for social and religious reasons and invoked power. I try to infuse that same spiritual power into my work.

Les Amis: How much did Beauford’s work influence yours, if any?

DS: I was already on my artistic path when I encountered his work . . . but the freedom and depth I saw in Delaney's art helped to push me to relax a bit more with my painting and find a deeper voice from within to bring to the canvas.

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (detail)
(1930) Pencil, ink and watercolor on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney,
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Les Amis: Have you used any of Beauford’s work as part of the arts education programs that you offer at Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation?

DS: I don’t believe the kids have used Delaney specifically but I am aware that they have looked at art from that period by artists of color. And I’m sure he was among them.

Les Amis: How did you come to obtain the portrait of Beauford’s mother?

DS: A great collector dealer friend of mine told me he had a client that wanted to sell a Delaney that was within my affordability. Beauford’s work is quite pricey. I was hoping for an abstraction but was pleasantly surprised when I saw the stunning portrait of his mother. I pulled the resources together and quickly purchased it before someone else snapped it up.

Les Amis: What drew you to this work?

DS: I was drawn to purchase his work for two reasons:
  1. To expand my collection of African-American masters.
  2. I’m still hoping to find an abstraction I can afford, but to have such a prominent historical artist in my home is a real blessing. His life in Paris is an amazing story.

Les Amis: Is there a “certain something” that motivates an artist (yourself included) to create abstract rather than figurative works?

DS: I think abstraction is a drawing on one’s soul to create the work. It’s a powerful experience to create something that comes totally from your spirit and imagination.

Les Amis: Do you think it is significant that Beauford continued to paint figurative portraits as he produced more and more abstract expressionist paintings?

DS: I think that artists have the ability to move across the creative spectrum and I admire that Beauford was able to allow himself the freedom to do so.

Les Amis: Any final thoughts?

DS: Only that I’m honored to be one of a very small group in the world that is lucky enough to have some of his work.