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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Homage to Beauford: Douglas Petrovic

From time to time, I "Google" Beauford. When I do so, I inevitably stumble across something intriguing that I never knew about him. Such was the case a few days ago, when I found the logo below on a Web site called Artistes sans Frontières (Artists without Borders):

© Artistes sans Frontières/Douglas Petrovic, 2004

The site also posts a tribute to Beauford that is particularly touching. It was written by Douglas Petrovic, an artist who met Beauford at the Café Sélect in Paris. To further investigate, I sent a message to the Web site and received a response from Helga Strobl, one of the artists whose work is presented there. I learned that Douglas Petrovic was her husband and that he died two years ago.

Helga told me that Douglas shared with her stories of his early years in Paris when he met Beauford:

He had come to Paris in 68 at [the age of] 17...all alone, wanting to be an artist, studying art and surviving as he could. He met Beauford in the circles of artists and philosophers in the Montparnasse area and they became friends, Beauford a bit of a mentor, helping him sometimes. Whenever he spoke of him, it was fond memories he told me and he cherished the paintings of Beauford [that] he had - I still do.

Douglas founded Artistes sans Frontières in 2001 and the homage to Beauford page was one of the first that they created.

Here is my translation of Douglas' homage:

It was in November or December 1968 that I met Beauford Delaney at the café Sélect in Montparnasse in Paris while I took a little nap the morning after an all-nighter. He was sitting next to me and he woke me up because I was snoring too loudly.

As I had just arrived in France, I spoke only rudimentary French and we immediately began a conversation in English. After a few glasses of red wine, I learned from him that he arrived in France during the 1950s for a tour of Europe that he never did - rather, he stayed in Paris. I also learned that he was a painter and had done portraits of many celebrities like Louis Armstrong, Henry Miller, James Baldwin... Because I was only 17 years old, I knew these celebrities by name or by reading and that impressed me enormously.

Because I didn't have a lot of money, he invited me to have lunch with him at the restaurant Milles Colonnes, where they had low-cost meals. (It still exists but it has become a chic restaurant.) It was a place frequented by all the painters, writers, philosophers and Beauford knew almost all of them. This was how I entered into the artistic and intellectual world of 1968 Montparnasse.

As I lived in a tiny room, we saw each other almost every week for many years to have a few glasses of wine, which he loved to do in my company. He brought me to his studio at rue Vercingétorix, near the Gare Montparnasse. I remember well when I went there the first time that even though it was not very big, it was fairly high like an artist's studio and it was full of plants, almost like a jungle. The light entered by the glass roof and was filtered by the plants. When I asked him why the plants were so large, he told me that he had received some of them when they were tiny and he had only watered them from time to time - they grew by themselves.

Today I can say that this was a reflection of his huge heart and his tolerant and generous soul.

He showed me all his paintings. His color abstracts were the most fascinating to me. The portraits were done in a very naive style and were too "kind" for my taste. He could never imagine that someone could act in bad faith. He was oblivious to all the negative characteristics of people and of humanity in general. He was the opposite of Francis Bacon with regard to this aspect of figurative painting.

During the summer of '71, I lived in an apartment on the 7th floor on boulevard du Montparnasse with a balcony that extended the entire length of the apartment. After an evening of jazz at the American Center, boulevard Raspail, I invited Beauford and several musicians to have a drink at my place. At around 6:30 AM, the musicians and Beauford decided to wake Paris up with a jazz concert. The balcony was long but not wide and they lined up, a trumpetist, a cornet player, Beauford in the middle, a guitarist, and a drummer who played the iron railing of the balcony with [pieces of] wood. That was the first time that I heard Beauford sing with a voice so sweet and admirable that you could only imagine it coming from children singing in Baptist choirs in New Orleans. All the windows of the neighboring buildings opened and everybody applauded despite having been awakened too early. The concert lasted a half-hour or more.

We became true friends despite the difference in our ages - he could have been my grandfather. Despite my travels around the world we always found each other again until he was hospitalized in 1975. Today I regret not having visited him during those last years that he spent at Sainte Anne's Hospital in Paris.

For my first marriage, he offered me the two paintings that I present here and that I have kept for 34 years.

Untitled
(1970) Gouache
© Artistes sans Frontières/Douglas Petrovic, 2004
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Untitled
(1970) Gouache
© Artistes sans Frontières/Douglas Petrovic, 2004
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

It is because of him that I began painting and went to the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He was my first, and therefore my most important, art critic.

Douglas de Petrovic

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