New York City
Beauford Delaney enjoyed the friendship of artists like Georgia O’Keefe and Al Hirschfield as well as writers like James Baldwin and Henry Miller, and their respect for his talent led him to become a kind of ambassador of the arts in both the United States and, later on, Paris. His eclectic art education gave him a variety of influences to draw upon, even studying for a brief time under Thomas Hart Benton.
Although the communal aspect of the Harlem Renaissance brought him initial success, his need to achieve stylistic independence caused a break with other artists, particularly coworkers in the Federal Arts Project in the mid-1930s. Although recognized by other artists for his abilities, it wasn’t until a Harlem retrospective a year before his death that he saw lasting commercial success.
A marginalized man in a marginalized ethnicity, Beauford Delaney struggled his entire life with prejudice not only against his African-American heritage, but also his homosexuality. Coupled with numerous tragedies later in life, his difficulties with mental illness comes as little surprise. This constant turmoil is apparent in his paintings, where figures and faces take on a contrasting, almost menacing look. Delaney’s use of impasto to create atmosphere is reminiscent of earlier Abstract Expressionists, but Delaney focuses on more personal subject matter.
Consider his portrait of James Baldwin, now residing in the National Portrait Gallery. Although his affection of the young writer was well-known, the painting was anything but sentimental, hinting that Delaney found little comfort even amongst friends.
Can Fire in the Park, oil on canvas, 1946 (Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.) http://americanart.si.edu/education/resources/ohfreedom/pdf/delaney_artwork.pdf
James Baldwin, pastel on paper, 1963 (National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.). http://www.npg.si.edu/cexh/eye/html/l_baldwin.htm
Jazz Quartet, oil on canvas, 1946 (Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY). http://www.artsmia.org/beauford-delaney/ny-5.cfm
Self Portrait, oil on canvas, 1944 (The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago). http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/111629
Hartigan, Lynda Roscoe. “Beauford Delaney.” 2014. http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artist/?id=1186
Wells, Monique Y. “Les Amis des Beauford Delaney.” February 15, 2014. http://lesamisdebeauforddelaney.blogspot.com/
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. “Beauford Delaney (1901-1979).” 2014. http://www.michaelrosenfeldart.com/artists/beauford-delaney-1901-1979