Despite his significant accomplishments, the artist Beauford Delaney remains an enigma. It is therefore a pleasure to draw greater attention to Delaney's thoughtful creative process and his considerable impact on the transition from modernist figuration toward abstraction.
Trained in a rigorous academic mode, Delaney first crafted figurative compositions, most notably a series of jazzy representational images of New York, in the 1940s. Delaney was an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance whose intellect and substance bound a connection with many other artists, including Georgia O'Keeffe, who, in 1943, adoringly painted and drew in charcoal and pastel a series of five portraits of her friend. Delaney and O'Keeffe each embraced pastel periodically throughout their careers, and O'Keeffe's pastels of Delaney have a special resonance of their warm connection. They belong to a small number of portraits O'Keeffe contemplated and are among the few of them done in pastel-a reference, perhaps, to both O'Keeffe's repeated embrace of the medium and her realization of Delaney's mastery.
Delaney brought a modernist's approach to the world. He sometimes referred to his figurative paintings as "musings" to highlight rhythm and music, so much a part of the experience of the Harlem Renaissance, and even to foreshadow his embrace of abstraction. His arrival in Paris in 1953, at James Baldwin's urging, untethered Delaney to express his concerns in completely abstract lyrical compositions, which he developed until his death in 1979.
The present exhibition is comprised of a group of six intimately scaled preparatory works-spontaneous and free-alongside a richly impastoed and keenly developed composition in oil on paper, the latter of which shows Delaney's complete maturation. The selection evokes the artist's careful construction of surface, form, rhythm, and color in a lyrical union. The group of works also reveals emerging confidence as Delaney became a more accomplished abstract painter at mid-century. These developments are even more astonishing in light of Delaney's progressive mental illness and considerable personal struggles.
Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door, recently presented at the Knoxville Museum of Art and deftly curated by Steven Wicks, highlights the important relationship between Delaney and the younger man, poet James Baldwin, over the course of their 30-year relationship. Illustrated through archival materials and expressive correspondence, the exhibition features their unique relationship, which encouraged rapid sharing of progress. Delaney and Baldwin experienced the world differently-they processed discovery and revelation through different art forms, but shared a unique bond.
James Baldwin, always with the right words, summarized the exhilaration Delaney brought to his world:
"I remember standing on a street corner with the black painter Beauford Delaney down in the Village, waiting for the light to change, and he pointed down and said, "Look." I looked and all I saw was water. And he said: "Look again," which I did, and I saw oil on the water and the city reflected in the puddle. It was a great revelation to me. I can't explain it. He taught me how to see, and how to trust what I saw. Painters have often taught writers how to see. And once you've had that experience, you see differently."
"The abstraction, ostensibly, is simply for me a penetration of something that is more profound in many ways than the rigidity of a form. A form if it breathes some, if it has some enigma to it, it is also the enigma that is the abstract, I would think."
—Beauford Delaney, as quoted in Richard A. Long et. al., Beauford Delaney: A Retrospective, New York, 1978, n.p.
“It would be great for young people here to view Beauford as East Tennessee’s Picasso."
—Stephen Wicks, as quoted in Jake Cigainero, "Beauford Delaney Returns to the Scene," The New York Times, Sept. 8, 2016, p.
If you are interested in speaking with us directly about the available works, or would like to learn more about Beauford Delaney, please do not hesitate to connect with Alana Ricca by phone call, to the gallery at (212) 879-8815, or by mobile at (203) 524-2694. We look forward to being in touch with you soon.