"Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow"

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Friday, June 2, 2023

"Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow"

NEW YORK, NY, JUNE 26, 2002 – After nearly 25 years, the work of master colorist Beauford Delaney returns to The Studio Museum in Harlem in the exhibition, Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow.  One of the first solo exhibitions of this internationally acclaimed artist’s work since a retrospective at the Studio Museum in 1978 and his death in 1979, this exhibition of nearly 30 works will focus on Delaney’s use of yellow in both figurative and abstract works from the 1940s into the early 1970s.

Curated by Richard J. Powell, Chairman of the Art and Art History Department at Duke University, and organized by Carrie Przybilla, the High’s Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art High, the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue are the first to explore this African–American artist’s use of the color yellow as a symbolic device in both his figurative and abstract works.  Delaney (1901–1979) believed that various hues held spiritual significance and was particularly drawn to the color yellow, which to him represented light, healing and redemption.

In his essay for the accompanying exhibition catalogue, Powell notes that:

“Delaney’s career-long decision to enshrine himself, loved ones, and the art of painting itself in a succession of radiant, joyous, magnificent, and painfully alive shades of yellow attest to his work’s greater, post-Abstract Expressionist mission. … [He] sought in his work and throughout his entire life to experience that state of perfect bliss in nature and society, to reach that nearly unattainable note or apogée of emotional discernment in the arts, and to know that ecstatic feeling of ‘excessive and deliberate joy’ in life.”

Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow debuted at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta on February 9, 2002. After The Studio Museum in Harlem, the exhibition will travel to the Anacostia Museum in Washington D.C. and then to the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, MA. Support for the exhibition and the national tour is provided by MetLife Foundation.

A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Delaney took lessons from a local artist before moving to Boston in 1924 to begin his formal training at several area schools. In 1929, when the artist arrived in Depression–era New York City, he immersed himself in the lively bohemian scene of Greenwich Village. It was Delaney’s pastel portraits of the people that surrounded him in the Village that won the artist public acclaim as well as his first solo and group exhibitions. For the remainder of the 1930s and 40s, Delaney was well–known in the New York art world for his bold and experimental use of color. During this period he developed his style of reducing figures in his paintings to abstracted shapes of brilliant color loosely outlined in black. His circle of friends grew to include Henry James, Georgia O’Keeffe and Delaney’s closest friend, acclaimed African–American author James Baldwin. Despite this acceptance, however, Delaney remained discouraged by the racial barriers that he continually encountered in the United States.

In 1953, Delaney traveled to Paris and decided to stay there, making the city his home for the remainder of his life. Already a mature expressionist painter when he arrived, Delaney began to move away from figuration to explore the emotional power of abstraction, producing an extensive body of work in watercolor and oil on canvas that took his art career to an unprecedented level. Plagued in the 1960s and 1970s by schizophrenia and alcoholism, Delaney was frequently hospitalized, affecting his active art career, though not diminishing the number or success of his exhibitions in the United States and Europe. Delaney died in 1979, following a four–year stay in St. Anne Hospital for the Insane. Despite the problems that Delaney may have had during his life, his talent and his perseverance have secured his place among the great African-American artists of the 20th century.

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