WHO: Beauford Delaney

Above: Photo of Beauford Delaney


Boston->New York->Paris-> Eternity. The journey of Beaufort Delaney and his work came a long way in his lifetime, and earned him a place amongst the great impressionist’s where his creative genius lives on. Born in Knoxville Tennessee, Delany’s work evolved where his physical joinery and internal turmoils took him. Unlike our previous artist Introduction alumni Jean Michel Basquiat (read piece here), Delaney underwent formal art training and education after exhibiting an interest since early childhood to hone his skill. In his 20’s when he became the apprentice of Knoxville’s most famous artist the white impressionist painter Lloyd Branson. He then went on to New York, where his work made him a key player of the ‘Harlem Renaissance’.


Above: Beauford Delaney paintings, left ‘Greenwich Village’ 1940, right ‘Untitled Jazz Club’ c.1949

His paintings from this time are a melting pot of his experiences so far, a reflection of everyday life that illustrated both his formal training and instinctive abilities. His work combined the raw everyday realities of the New York streets with a dreamlike impressionist style, dancing on the border of abstract, with his use of energetic colour and harsh lines. In the beginning he seemed to find a place in the world, observing many different social groups & races, becoming friends with contemporary, like minded individuals like Georgia O’Keeffe, who would later paint his portrait.

Above: A Portrait of Delaney by Georgia O’keefe 1940, a friend and an admirer of his work 

However his life in New York was never short of places to draw inspiration from, and perhaps explained his growing isolation. Having arrived in the city in the fall out of the ‘Great Depression’ and in the midst of the ‘Great Migration’ of black people from the rural south to the industrial norther, Beauford had seen his fair share of things to make a man ponder the harsh realities of the world, seen in pieces such as can fire in the park (1946). Moreover his work started to reflect his internal world, one that was constantly conflicted and unable to accept himself as a ‘homosexual negro’, his isolation suggested such an existence, free of the harsh eyes of others.


Above: Delaney painting, left: ‘Can fire in the park’ 1946 right: Jazz Concert in Old Synagogue, New York 1946

By the 1950’s Delaney had made the move to Paris, signalling the start of the next chapter in his artistic memoirs as well as his personal life. His work became celebrated as part of the ‘Abstract Impressionist’s movement which was about to take the art world by storm, but was a group he never felt he affiliated with.

Above: Delaney painting, ‘Street Scene’ 1953

He would spend the last 26 years of his life in the french capital, but deteriorating mental and physical health would lead him to die while in a hospital for the insane in 1979.


Above: Left, photo of Delaney by Rue Guilleminot in 1973, Right, Delaney in his Paris studio in 1967

Despite a flurry of famous friends over the decades, the early years after his death proving unfruitful in their appreciation for his talent, and even being buried in an unmarked grave stone. However through the decades,friends, fans and art critics alike have come to realise and share what was always there to be seen, his pure of heart attitude and honest expression in all aspects of life, made his work worthy of acclamation.


Above: Left Beauford and James Baldwin 1976. Centre, Beauford portrait of Ella Fitzgerald 1968. Right, Beauford and Darthea Speyer, stand before Beauford’s portrait of Speyer 1973

Daring, courageous, and a quality so often undervalued, Beauford inspires AlphaOmega through demonstrating divergence in his style at a time when he had built momentum, going against the grain and disassociating himself from the art world. Which became an incredibly bold and pioneering move from any artist let alone an African American artist of his time. He was incredibly loyal and believed in his artistry and never felt the need for acceptance, a lesson we could all greatly benefit from learning.


WHO: Patrick Kelly

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Above: Photo of Patrick Kelly

WHY WE ARE INSPIRED: When you hear the word Mississippi, there are probably a few things that come to mind before ‘ haute couture’. However this great southern delta state managed to produce arguably one of the greatest designers that fashion has seen, whose larger than life outlook and boundary pushing instincts rocked the industry.

Playful, fun and glamorous, it’s easy to understand why Patrick Kelly’s designs became such a hit of the day. But as with anything that garners widespread appeal, they were also sprinkled with the glitter of controversy and sly undertones.

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Above: SS89 Collection. Photograph by Oliviero Toscani.Images courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Kelly’s clever use of iconoclastic racist imagery amplified his political standing on the subject matter at the time. The logo on his boutique bags, which divided opinions, cleverly featured a playful yet powerful image of a smiling golliwog, an effort by Kelly to reclaim the racist stereotype that once depicted black people in America.

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Above: Left, Patrick Kelly brooch. Centre, Patrick Kelly shopping bags. Right, Patrick Kelly 1989 magazine feature

With his mother’s helping hand he even produced racist pickaninny doll pins, which he handed out at the end of his shows as souvenirs as well as famously designing a watermelon hat to subtly subvert and undermine racist imagery which were prevalent symbols that he grew up with in the south.


Above: The famous watermelon hat worn by catwalk model

Even when he hit the big time Kelly always remained true to his roots. Though he was inspired by the world of success and beautiful people around him, it was the women in his life at the start that spurred on his passion for fashion.

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Above: Left, photo taken with Patrick Kelly, Iman, Grace jones Naomi Campbell. Right, Patrick Kelly and his grandmother


Above: Patrick Kelly and Janet Chandler 

He never forgot the unrepresented black women who filled the church pews in his home town every Sunday and used them as an impetus to begin his ascent into the world of fashion.

Kelly’s universal imprint became more diverse as he designed for all types of women across America and beyond who had seen glimpses of the glamorous world of fashion. His message was simple, women of all diverse backgrounds should be celebrated, ladies that attend the ‘Baptist church on a Sunday, are just as fierce as the ladies at Yves Saint Laurent’s haute couture shows.’

Kelly’s playfulness so admired then and now is underpinned by something more intense today. As much as the designer was appreciated then (illustrated by his induction in Paris’ Chambre Syndicale) with the bittersweet lense of hindsight, the world can see what a rarity he truly was. His fashion house had five years of exuberance, fanning the flames of change before the designer died suddenly. Although Kelly had a signature look with the use heart shapes he sewed onto black tube dresses, using bright coloured buttons he had so much more to offer in the style stakes.

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Above: Left, Patrick Kelly AW88. Right Photo of Bette Davis wearing Patrick Kelly

His designs provided a glimpse of what the future would have held for the brand and indeed what is possible for the world of fashion and design as a whole. We at AO London will always remember a true creative who was bold enough to cleverly depict political/social issues through the use of sartorial brilliance.