Beauford Delaney, Untitled, 1967
Smart Museum of Art
I’m Rachel Cohen. I teach creative writing at the University of Chicago and I work with art critics on looking closely at art. I’m looking here at Beauford Delaney’s “Untitled (Yellow)” painted in 1967.
Delaney painted in several kinds of genres all the time he painted landscape, portrait and pure abstraction. Delaney was not a monochrome artist, he was really interested in the interplay among colors. But he did gravitate incredibly strongly toward yellow. There was an interesting conjunction in Delaney between thinking about color and thinking about light. He was always really interested in light. And yellow, of course, is a color that seems to unify color and light. And it’s really interesting to think about what the different possible meanings of yellow were for him.
A story that I love, and that I think about a lot was his friendship with James Baldwin, the writer, James Baldwin, who was a very close friend of his. Delaney moved to Paris in 1953. And for a while he had his studio in a place called Clamart, and there was a summer where Baldwin lived with him there, and he talks about this window in Clamart, where the two of them would sit together. He says “there was a window in Beauford’s house in Clamart before which we often sat late at night, early in the morning, at noon, this window looked down on a garden, or rather would have looked at on a garden if it had not been for the leaves and branches of a large tree which pressed directly against the window. Everything one saw from this window then was filtered through these leaves. And this window was a kind of universe, moaning and wailing when it rained, light of the morning, and it’s blue as the blues when the last light of the sun departed.”
And I think that really helps for looking at the paintings kind of imagining a space that he’s making of abstraction that’s also related to landscape and it’s a way of looking and of looking with somebody else.
Long Image DescriptionLong descriptions are text versions of the information provided in a detailed or complex image, like the image above.
Bright yellow brushstrokes, set off by visible underlayers of dark gray-green and white, streak the surface of this small rectangular canvas, which hangs vertically. At several places, including in the top right corner and in the top and bottom left corners, faint smears or daubs of red appear. Throughout the painting, yellow mixes with white, producing an array of light yellow tints which add to the work’s luminosity. The dark gray-green layer showing through this exuberant yellowy mesh brings depth to the composition and introduces a textural contrast between the softness of areas where bright yellow and light yellow brushstrokes dominate and the apparent roughness of gray-green areas split in countless places by tiny streaks of yellow. Along the edges of the painting, yellow brushstrokes tend to run parallel to the borders of the canvas, with smaller white brushstrokes often closing the gap between the yellow and the edge.