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, July 29, 2017

Beauford-inspired Mural in Knoxville

I recently published two posts about elementary school kids in Knoxville being inspired by Beauford’s life and art and creating self-portraits and abstract works that were displayed at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

I have now become aware of another Beauford-inspired work of art created by Knoxville students that is on permanent display. It is a mural on an external wall at Beaumont Academy, a Fine Arts, Museum, and Honors magnet school located north and west of downtown Knoxville, and it was painted by students from Knoxville’s Austin-East Magnet High School for Performing Arts.

Mural at Beaumont Academy
Screenshot from WBIR.com video

Learn the story behind the mural by watching the video below.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

I Can't Go Home...

Beauford on the deck of the SS Liberté*

I can't go home because I never really left ... I sailed to France sixteen years ago, but I've never left America. The body goes somewhere, that's all ...

The above quote was Beauford's response to a reporter who asked him in 1969 if, as a Negro, he felt he should go home to America where the action is.

In fact, part of Beauford's heart, mind, and soul always remained in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. From the moment he left Knoxville to move to Boston in 1923 until his commitment to Sainte-Anne's Hospital in Paris in 1975, Beauford consistently, if not frequently, reached back to Knoxville for emotional and spiritual sustenance.

Delaney Family Home at 815 East Vine Street, Knoxville*
Image from KnoxNews.com Archive

Beauford and his brother Joseph returned to Knoxville in 1933. Both were living in New York City at the time. They were much admired and their accomplishments were touted by those in their community.

In 1938, he wrote "disjointed letters" to his mother Delia during a time of financial crisis and she reacted by writing to Joseph to tell him to take care of Beauford.

In 1941, he visited Knoxville briefly at around Christmas time and in 1950, he took the train from New York to Knoxville to see his mother.

Portrait of Delia Delaney
(1964) Oil on canvas
Photo courtesy of Case Antiques
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

His last visit as a resident of the U.S. was in August 1953, shortly before he shut down his New York studio and moved to Paris. Biographer David Leeming says that during this visit, Beauford "asked many questions about family history and went through family papers, as if this would be a last chance to do so."

Beauford's last visit to Knoxville took place in December 1969. By this time, he was so mentally fragile that he relied on others to make his travel arrangements. He somehow made it to Knoxville despite many mishaps along the way and was taken to the Delaney home by a taxi driver who knew his family. He celebrated his birthday there, went to church with his family, and painted. He left for Paris on January 14, 1970 and would never see the United States again.

Beauford's relatives visited him in Paris as well. Joseph came most frequently, but his brother Emery, his sister-in-law Gertrude, and his niece Imogene came in 1964. Joseph and Beauford's niece, Ogust Mae, attended Beauford's funeral.

*The creator of this photo is unknown to Les Amis de Beauford Delaney. We consider its publication in this blog post to be "fair use" according to U.S. copyright law (used for a non-profit educational purpose; no significant effect on the potential market for the work).

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.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Beautiful Haunt of Beauford Delaney

by Silver Wainhouse

Silver Wainhouse is a woman of many talents and accomplishments. She is the archivist of the Wainhouse Collection at Syracuse University; the director at Womanistics; and an actress, writer, speaker, astrologist, and coach. Wainhouse fell in love with Beauford's story and is now writing a play about his life. As part of her preparation for this project, she and I visited Beauford's gravesite at Thiais Cemetery. She has graciously submitted the article below for publication on the Les Amis blog.

Beauford Delaney’s body, about to be exhumed from an unmarked grave to be moved to a collective grave, became indignant. So, it did what all great spirits do, it attached itself to someone to keep it alive. And that person was Dr. Monique Y. Wells. Monique, who was moved to satisfy a growing curiosity about African-American gravesites in Paris, was rumbled by Beauford’s baritone voice.

Beauford's unmarked grave - 2009
© Discover Paris!

Beauford, after all, was a notable painter whose list of friends and acquaintances included the likes of James Baldwin, Jackson Pollock, W. C. Handy, Ethel Waters, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Richard Wright and Duke Ellington. He painted Marian Anderson as she sang. Of course Monique Y. Wells would be infected by his spirit.

During a lunch I caught the Beauford virus as Monique told me about Beauford’s life and of her project to reintroduce Beauford Delaney to the world. “You must read Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney by David Leeming,” she told me. “It is my Beauford bible.”

David Leeming does a remarkable job of immersing you in Beauford’s world. I will not see the colors of yellow and red as I did before. They have become Beauford’s colors when I see them, separate and merging. After reading Leeming’s book, I wanted to see his paintings. I wanted to visit his grave.

Monique and I coordinated a time for me to arrive, keeping in mind weather and the fact that I would have to take the northern bound to Paris train from Nîmes.

I felt as if I were on a holy pilgrimage and felt mounting tears. We stopped to buy yellow flowers to honor him. He so loved yellow. There was a sadness because we knew that he attempted to keep demons at bay his entire life, a contest he lost.

Silver Wainhouse at Beauford's Gravesite
© Discover Paris!

Thiais is a sprawling cemetery of 225 acres located 6.5 miles south of Paris. The sections range in appearance from desolate to noble. Beauford is in Section 86; now with a marked grave and hopefully with flowers from others who have discovered his beauty.

Thiais Cemetery - Division 86
© Discover Paris!

Jake Cigainero was piqued and a story about Beauford Delaney graced the New York Times. Just like in the ole days. It’s because Beauford Delaney has a way of getting into you. He really does.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Beauford in "Psychology and Art" - Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

As part of my interview with Dr. Robert Brubaker, Head of the Psychology department at Eastern Kentucky University, about Beauford and the Psychology of Art course that he conducts in Paris, I asked Dr. Brubaker how Beauford's childhood experiences influenced his creative achievements - positively or negatively.

Delaney Family Portrait, 1909
Standing: from left to right - Samuel Emery, John Samuel (father), and Delia (mother)
Seated: from left to right - Joseph, Ogust Mae, Beauford, Naomi
Photo from du Closel archive
Image © Discover Paris!

He responded as follows:
There is research to suggest that there are some childhood and family factors that are more common among especially creative people than among the less creative. One that seems relevant for Beauford is having had creative or aesthetically inclined parents.

David Leeming tells us that Delia Delaney was a creative person – a seamstress, a quilt-maker, and a singer.

Portrait of Delia Delaney
Beauford Delaney
(1933) Oil on canvas
Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, TN

Beauford’s younger brother Joseph was an artist, his older brother Samuel Emery sang, as did Beauford and his other siblings. The Delaney family seemed to appreciate and value artistic expression.

Image of a portrait of Joseph Delaney
by Beauford Delaney
in Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney
by David A. Leeming

Having had a mentor in childhood also seems important. Beauford received early encouragement from his employer at the sign painting shop. He was introduced to the artist Lloyd Branson, who recognized Beauford’s talent and ability, provided art lessons, shared with him his appreciation of light, encouraged him to pursue his art studies in Boston, and facilitated his move to that city.

Portrait of Lloyd Branson
ca. 1911
Image in public domain

His mother’s strong belief in Christian values and morality seemed to help Beauford deal with psychological distress caused by the voices that tormented him. Of course those same values, held by his father as well, may also have contributed to the guilt and conflict he felt over his sexuality for the remainder of his life. To the extent that these feelings motivated his art (painting helped him manage the voices he heard), they contributed to his artistic development.

Leeming also notes that Delia “…never revealed her suffering to others” and that she instilled that same quality in Beauford. It's possible that this encouraged him to express otherwise unacknowledged psychological distress in a less direct way, through his painting.

To read Part 1 of this article, click HERE.