World of AO

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.