Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is partnering with the Wells International Foundation (WIF) to take the Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition to the U.S.!

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Untitled, 1959: Finding the Light

By Hanna Gressler

If you compare a painting by Beauford from the 1920s with a painting by him from the 1950s and onward, there is a chance you may think the paintings come from two different artists. The older he became, and the more art he produced, the more Beauford moved toward abstraction.

In the 1930s, Beauford found himself heavily influenced by the French artist Henri Matisse, whose use of saturated colors and distorted spaces inspired Beauford’s own artwork. Paris was the perfect city to allow Beauford to indulge his passion in modern art as he frequented galleries and studios in La Rive Gauche and looked at Greco-Roman sculpture at the Musée du Louvre. In this culturally artistic environment, Beauford’s painting style matured and flourished as he developed a new sense of color and space.

We can see this flourish of color and space in Untitled, from 1959. Dark shades of green, blue, and purple outline this painting. The colors then become lighter as they move across the canvas - a clear white and bright yellow - creating an inward movement toward the center of the painting.

Untitled
(1959) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

As a viewer, your gaze is immediately drawn to this center of white and yellow, whose light seems to be swallowing the darkness of the colors around the painting, suggesting the image of a black hole. But instead of a black hole infused with darkness, this hole is infused with light, and we must enter into it in order to discover what we become on the other side.

This inward movement of the bright colors also suggests a sense of home, the image of a womb in which the light of life exists. The viewer feels a desire to return to this home, where she can be lulled by the painting’s “gentle blue and darling yellow.”

The brush strokes of the painting, Untitled, are also particular in their loose and musical style. Instead of serving to fill up bodies of space with the color, the brush strokes form spiral-like bodies of their own. Across the canvas, the white colored strokes develop a lyrical aspect as they form shapes akin to letters, as if they are trying to speak to the viewer.

These white bodies of color hold a mystery the viewer must solve in order to see past them and become engulfed by the bright yellow in the background. The sun-pierced yellow holds a spiritual power as it evokes the spirit Helios, providing a sense of holiness. In fact, each color contains a symbolic meaning.

It is Beauford’s combination of colors in this painting that creates a personal narrative and informs the imagination of the viewer. The inward movement created by the bright white and yellow colors pull the viewer toward a place she can call home, a place of light and rebirth, resulting in a sense of regeneration and redemption.

Throughout his entire life, Beauford was forced to face racism and homophobia, two potent forms of social rejection. In his more abstract paintings, Beauford paints his escape from this rejection, flying toward colors of light with the same movement as his brush strokes. The energy in his paintings comes from the visible and invisible interactions that happen between the many shapes and colors. These interactions evoke a universal spirituality that allows the viewer to look inside herself and discover that she is her own source of light and power.

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, August 5, 2017

Life

By Hanna Gressler

My inspiration for this poem comes from the painting Nativité (Nativity Scene) by Beauford Delaney and the bright yellow color that illuminates not only the painting, but also the scene that is taking place. Through my poem, I wanted to explore the transfer between the darkness of the womb and the all-encompassing light of life that is portrayed in this painting.

Nativity Scene
(1961) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

The night you were born, there was a light
that shined so bright, it blinded
the stars.

Released from the pressure around your body,
you moved toward its brightness,
only capable of finding it
through the dark.

Suddenly, the universe
revealed itself –
a vision of those you love –
and your arms and legs began to move
in their newfound freedom.

Goats danced in the soft green grass.
Wind chimes sang distant melodies.
I held you beneath the stars where,
in this moment of eternity,
we bathed in the transcendent light of life.

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 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).