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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Art and Desire


Art and Desire
re-Searching Beauford Delaney: Part Four

EL Kornegay Jr., Ph.D.



In Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, David Leeming opens the unusual door to what might be considered the sexual life of Beauford Delaney. According to James Baldwin, this lyric about the “unusual door” comes from a song “Beauford would often sing.”[1] This unusual door signals at least two aspects of who Beauford Delaney is: a “…living exemplar of a black man as functioning, self-supporting artist” and according to Leeming, a homosexual. Beauford was a Negro artist and a homosexual.[2] Yet, both are constrained by the former, with Beauford’s art having limitations in the world of whiteness and his sexuality having limitations in the world of blackness.

Both comprise a double-edged sword of desire with the sharp blade of race and sexuality cutting both ways. The issue of race is a traceable event; sexuality is a bit more elusive, for the latter requires the willingness of lovers to speak and encounters to be exposed. Race plays itself out in the open; sex, most often behind closed doors. How can we account for these acts, which most often remain sealed behind a wall of silence? How do we add the dimension of physical intimacy to our beloved Beauford in ways that celebrate his manhood and his desire to love and be loved?

Leeming asks if Beauford’s paintings say anything about his racial or sexual history. I say his painting say something about both. This is a co-constituted viewpoint, one in which race and sexuality are combined in a colorful commentary of blended pastels, vividly textured swirls, and dimensioned landscapes where images of desire have been captured.

The joy and pain of a double-edged life that has been raced and sexed is wrapped up in a climatic crescendo of brushstrokes distilled on canvas where truth lies somewhere between the painted images we see and the reasons for their being that we cannot. It is in this space where the answer to the question concerning Beauford’s sexual selfhood might be found.

Leeming writes that some friends of Beauford’s claim that he “did not concern himself with racial or sexual issues” and “that his whole life was his painting.” Yet we find hints of a sexual pulse in Dark Rapture (1941); hidden desire roams under the moonlit streets and city lights of Greenwich Village (1945), in the interplay of couples in the light of day in Washington Square (1952), and in the brightly colored celebration of the erect phallus set between testicular orbs in Sun and Moon (1970). Beauford subtlety expresses his racial and sexual self in certain of his paintings; he reveals what he wants us to see privately, not publicly.

Dark Rapture
(1941) Oil on canvas
Private collection

Leeming mentions that Delaney was a very private man and was careful never to blur the lines between eroticism and friendship, between race and sex. However, Beauford does integrate these themes into his work and is quite flamboyant in his celebration of human eroticism in both his love for the blues and its reflection in his art. There is a voyeuristic quality to his paintings; many of his subjects seem not to see him and therefore do not necessarily see his desire for them. He seems to be an unknown admirer framing the silhouette of someone he finds beautiful up close (in Jean Genet [1972], Genet seems to emerge from a thicket after a private encounter) or admires from afar (in Rosa Parks [1970], the specter of a perpendicular bulge adorns a random dark figure in the background of the painting). The angles in his works belie coyness, a shyness only revealed when you catch the glance of an admirer in the corner of your eye.

Jean Genet
(1972) Oil on canvas
Private collection

I appreciate Leeming’s response to the questions surrounding Delaney’s racial and sexual identity. Along with black religion, they are important aspects shaping Beauford’s life and work. However, I find that Beauford’s desire – to resist racial and sexual limitations – is directly tied to and bound up in his art. There is no need to speculate about either: we only have to look at what he painted and left behind to get a glimpse of who, what, and how he loved. It is an unusual door to open, but once you have entered, the understanding of the many dimensions of Beauford’s desire begins to emerge.


[1] I have not been able to trace the anecdotal reference by Baldwin of this lyric often sung by Beauford. However, I do understand this is possibly an example of a folk “spiritual” indicative of the black church tradition both men shared and one which Baldwin very often references. James Baldwin, “The Price of the Ticket”, ed. Toni Morrison. Collected Essays.(New York: Library of America, 1998), 830.
[2] David Leeming, James Baldwin: A Biography, (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994), 32.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Beauford at the Fall 2012 African-American Fine Art Auction

Swann Galleries held its semi-annual African-American Fine Art auction on Thursday, 18 October 2012.  Among the 154 works offered for sale were two Beauford Delaney paintings. The first (Lot 67) is a vibrantly multi-colored abstract:

 Untitled (Rainbow Abstraction)
(1962) Watercolor and gouache on paper
Photo courtesy of Swann Galleries

It measures 495 x 654 mm / 19.5 x 25.75 inches and is signed and dated in ink in the lower right corner.  It comes from a private New York collection.

The estimated sale price for this painting was $10,000-15,000.  

The second painting (Lot 68) is an unusual abstract dominated by the color pink:

Untitled (Pink Abstract)
(1964) Watercolor on Arches paper
Photo courtesy of Swann Galleries

It measures 572 x 394 mm / 22.5 x 15.5 inches and is signed, inscribed "Paris," and dated "July 1964" in blue ink in the lower right corner.

This piece originates from the collection of Al Hirschfeld, a friend and patron of Beauford who partly funded Beauford's first trip to Paris.  It was acquired by Phillipe Briet in 1989, who gave it to a dear friend in 1991.

The estimated sale price for this work was $8,000-12,000.

Untitled (Pink Abstract) sold for $8,400, inclusive of Buyer's Premium.* Untitled (Rainbow Abstract) was not purchased during the auction.

I spoke briefly with Nigel Freeman, director of Swann's African-American Fine Art auction, about this.  He indicated that each work put up for auction has an unpublicized reserve price, below which the work will not sell.  Sometimes, when more than one work by an artist is being auctioned during a given sale, buyers focus more attention on acquiring a particular one.  This may result in insufficient bidding on the other works so that their reserve price is not met.

This may have been what occurred during Thursday's sale.


*Buyer's Premium - the fee that the auction house charges in addition to the actual price of the painting.  Swann Galleries charges 20% of the sale price as a premium. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Christie's Paris Auctions Two Delaney Paintings

On October 10, 2012, Christie's Paris held an auction entitled Rendez-vous - Intérieurs Contemporains (Rendezvous - Contemporary Interiors).  Among the works for sale were two abstract Beauford Delaney paintings.

The first untitled work is an aquarelle and gouache on paper.  It was Lot 70 at the sale.

Untitled
(1962) Watercolor and gouache on paper
© Christie's Images

It is signed and dated "Beauford Delaney 1962 Paris" in the bottom right corner.

This painting sold for 3500 euros (roughly $4500).

The second work (Lot 71) is a watercolor on paper.


Untitled
(1961) Watercolor on paper
© Christie's Images

It is signed and dated "Beauford Delaney 61. San Telmo Mallorca" in the bottom right corner.

It also sold for 3500 euros (roughly $4500).

Both paintings came from a private collection and were authenticated for the auction by Sylvain Briet.  Prices represent the hammer price (the price at which the work sells at auction) plus the buyer's premium.

Christie's sold many of Beauford's paintings in 2010 during its auction of the Darthea Speyer Collection.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Beauford in Blue: Story of a Portrait

Shawn Olszewski is a self-taught artist who has painted professionally for the past ten years.  He created this beautiful portrait of Beauford:

Beauford Delaney 
(2010)  Oil bar and oil pastel on canvas 
Shawn Olszewski

I contacted him to ask him why.  He granted me this interview.

Les Amis:  How did you come to learn about Beauford Delaney?

S.O.:  I came to expressionism on my own but when I started getting noticed I started researching
other expressionists more. When I first saw Delaney's portrait of James Baldwin I was hooked.

Les Amis:  Which portrait of Baldwin did you first see:

S.O.:  The one that Delaney painted in 1945*.

Les Amis:  How familiar are you with Beauford's work?
S.O.:  I've never had the opportunity to see a work in person, I'm not quite sure how I will handle it
when I do. So all of my exposure to him has been through books and the Internet.

Les Amis:  What do you like about it?
S.O.:  I'm most intrigued by push/pull of the browns and ochers with the vividly intense colors. I appreciate
that they switch roles from one painting to the next. The portraiture is just stunning.

Les Amis:  What inspired you to paint Beauford's portrait?
S.O.:  I realized that I had been evangelizing Beauford for years to anyone that would listen but that I'd
never attempted to paint him. I felt I was doing myself a disservice by not attempting it.

Les Amis:  Tell us more about "evangelizing Beauford."
S.O.: I definitely talk about Beauford to other artists.  As you know, his story is one about race, mental health, and sexuality also.  So in our ongoing fight for equality in the U.S., I have many opportunities to talk with people of all disciplines about Mr. Delaney, whom I believe to be very much underrated due to these "isms" and stigmas.


Les Amis:  Were you inspired by Beauford's painting style when you did his portrait?
S.O.:  I've been inspired by his style from first seeing his work. I try not to step on his style but
I think a little bit of him should be obvious in all my portraiture.

Les Amis:  Why did you select the colors that you used for the painting?
S.O.:  I felt they are the colors that we have in common. Yellow ocher especially is very important in my portraits. The blue is more hopeful. We've both had very turbulent lives; the blue is choosing to ignore some of that.


To view Olszewski's art, visit http://www.etsy.com/shop/OlszewskiArt.

* Beauford's 1945 portrait of James Baldwin is owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.