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Saturday, October 29, 2022

Beauford in The Art of the Affair

A couple of weeks ago, I reported that Forsyth Harmon created a beautiful watercolor portrait of Beauford for a book called The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence by Catherine Lacey.

Beauford Delaney
(2017) Watercolor on paper
Forsyth Harmon

I reached out to Harmon to learn more about the book and her portrait of Beauford, and she graciously granted Les Amis the interview below.

Les Amis: Amazon lists you as an author on The Art of the Affair alongside Catherine Lacey. How much of the writing did you contribute to this book in addition to your wonderful illustrations?

FH: The Art of the Affair grew from a piece Catherine Lacey contributed to The Believer magazine. The concept was Catherine's, however she and I worked together to co-curate the relationship chains between turn of the century writers, artists, musicians, and more. Catherine did the writing, and I did the illustrations. The process was very collaborative, and a lot of fun. I learned so much.

Les Amis: What story does the book tell about Beauford Delaney?

FH: Beauford is featured in Chapter Five of The Art of the Affair--a section entitled "The Way Your Blood Beats." He appears as an important artist of his time, and one of only the two persons Georgia O'Keefe ever drew. The book also calls attention to the ways in which he inspired James Baldwin, who called him "the first living proof, for me, that a black man could be an artist," and "a cross between Brer Rabbit and St. Francis of Assisi." Beauford helped James find a way to pay for his father's funeral when he was still a teenager. They later traveled together in Europe.

Book spread from The Art of the Affair
Image courtesy of Forsyth Harmon

Les Amis: Did you decide to include him in the book or did Catherine Lacey?

FH: I can't recall which of us pulled in Beauford! I do remember curating this chapter in Catherine's Fort Greene apartment over dinner. It was a wonderful night!

Les Amis: What inspired you and / or Lacey to include him in the book?

FH: As a portrait artist myself, I have always been a fan of Beauford's work. It wasn't until later in life that I realized an organization founded by my family, The Harmon Foundation, had frequently exhibited his early pastel portraits during the1930s and 1940s. The Foundation supported a variety of causes, but is best known for having served as a patron of African-American art during the Harlem Renaissance, helping African-American artists gain the recognition they deserved.

Les Amis: What inspired your watercolor of Beauford? Was it a photo portrait, one of his self-portraits ... ?

FH: I generally use multiple sources to inspire my portraits. In this case, I used a combination of photographs and Beauford's self-portraits, but was probably most inspired by a photograph taken by Rue Guilleminot in France in 1973. I did my best to capture his expression in this photograph ... knowing, bemused, and perhaps a bit exhausted.

Beauford Delaney
Rue Guilleminot
France 1973
© Errol Sawyer

Les Amis: You are donating the proceeds from the sale of your Beauford Delaney portrait to support the library at the A. J. William-Myers African Roots Center. What is your relationship with the center?

FH: I am local to the A. J. William-Myers African Roots Center, which is headquartered in Kingston, New York. I've been inspired by the work the organization does around literacy and the advancement of historical knowledge, cultural enrichment, civic engagement and social justice. Over the past two years, The Harmon Foundation has included the center in its annual funding disbursement at my direction.

Les Amis: Has anyone purchased the portrait of Beauford, allowing you to donate to the Center?

FH: I am making the donation.

Les Amis: How well do you know Beauford's work?

FH: I'm not an expert! Although now I'm inspired to learn more.

Les Amis: What, if anything, about it inspires you?

FH: I find so much movement and depth of emotion in his portraits especially. The subject paint application embodies a lot of energy, and the background washes feel almost auric, creating a kind of halo. I feel they offer true access into the subject's internal state.

Les Amis: Are there any final thoughts you'd like to share?

FH: Just gratitude for the opportunity to support the A. J. William-Myers African Roots Center by celebrating Beauford Delaney. Thank you!

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