Delsarte, Louis 1944–
Louis Delsarte 1944–
Louis Delsarte was a figurative artist whose work reflected a departure from the realist style that was predominant among many of the African-American artists during the first half of the twentieth century. His multi-layered works have been described as illusionistic and myth-like, often crossing over into the world of abstraction. Delsarte’s work was held at The Studio Museum in Harlem and at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His work has also been exhibited in galleries throughout the United States and Europe, including the Schomberg Center in New York and the Howard University Fine Arts Gallery. In 2002 his most public work could be viewed at the Church Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, where his colorful 120 foot mosaic tile mural, Transitions, could be admired by commuters riding on the D and Q lines.
Delsarte was born in Brooklyn on September 1, 1944. He grew up and went to school in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. After high school, he attended New York University, were he earned his BFA in 1967. Ten years later, in 1977, Delsarte received his MFA from the University of Arizona. As a young man, he was surrounded by music. Delsarte credited his grandfather for exposing him to an eclectic array of music, including jazz, opera, classical, musicals, and blues, among others. Being multi-talented, Delsarte merged his sense of rhythm and drama with his visual awareness. Writing for The Atlantic Journal-Constitution, art critic Catherine Fox wrote, “Delsarte, a consummate craftsman, uses watercolor, pastel, and acrylic to make handsome, richly developed, and layered works that feature women dancing, moving in graceful arabesques accompanied by musicians of various sorts. There is no denying the beauty of the Morris Brown College professor’s paintings and works on paper. He orchestrates watercolor washes, pastel lines, passages of pattern, and realistic figures with aplomb.”
His layered technique added to the fluid, almost impressionistic, images. While working on a canvas, Delsarte would place a drawn image on the floor, applying paint from all sides, often without paying too much attention to the literal figures drawn onto the canvas. For the next layer, he would place the canvas on an easel, attending to the figurative aspects of the painting. When the painting became “too literal” it went back on the floor and was reworked from all vantage points. Relying on this method, the artist remarked on the Union College website, “In the future I could see myself moving into more levels of abstraction, to non-objective work.”
Delsarte, who admitted that he often worked on his pieces for over ten to twelve sessions, desired to display the same spontaneity in his work that he recognized and admired in a compelling jazz performance. “Musicians, dancers, and painters are all artists trying to capture the abstract rhythms of our lives.” In an interview with Adrienne Klein, posted on the Union College website, Delsarte explained how he created his paintings. Comparing his painting method to the way a musician might experiment or play around with a melody, Delsarte remarked, “Like Sonny Rollins moves around the melody during a saxophone solo, for example—that’s the way I attempt to create movement in
Born September 1, 1944, in Brooklyn, NY. Education; New York University, Pratt Institute, B.F.A., 1967; University of Arizona, MJ.A., 1977.
Career: Morris Brown College, professor; Spelman College, adjunct professor.
Awards: Otto M. Burkhardt Trust Award.
Address: Office -2221 Peachtree Rd. # D268, Atlanta, GA 30309.
my own work. Often I forget that I am working with a figure, and I focus intensely on a sound or a movement. I search for the same spontaneity in my work that I admire in a good jazz performance.”
Delsarte worked in a variety of media, including water color, pastels, pencil, mosaic tiles, and acrylics, often creating mixed media pieces. He drew inspiration from many sources, particularly music, African folktales, everyday life, and historical events. Delsarte once explained, according to www.geocities.com/art-appre-ciation/2000govexhibit.html, “I am constantly searching for meaning in my life as I create. This revelation, or act of discovery through experimentation has been a lifelong process. My work is really spiritual in the sense that I am always thinking of this life, and what it really means.” In a mural that he created with several of his students from Morris Brown College, Delsarte depicted the ending scene from the African folktale, The Child in the Silk-Cotton Tree. The painting, which was applied to a wall in the nursery of a model home, reflected the moral of the tale, namely, that the loving bond between mother and child cannot be affected by distance or time. His 120 foot long mosaic tile mural at the Church Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, commissioned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, reflected the cultural diversity of the surrounding Flatbush neighborhood where Delsarte grew up. For this mural, Delsarte created four scenes and sought to create images that would inspire people who have been overwhelmed by life situations to obtain a deeper understanding of life. The mural was finished in the spring of 2000.
In 2001 Delsarte’s work was chosen to be included in the traveling exhibit, When the Spirit Moves: African-American Dance in History and Art. The last stop for the national tour was the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building. Demonstrating the roots and evolution of African-American dance forms, the exhibit included a visual arts section, African American Art Inspired by Dance, which was curated by art historian Samella Lewis. Commenting on the artists, Lewis said, “Some are or have been dancers themselves, while others have a history of being motivated by the moods and movements associated with dance. Through time and artistic production each of these artists has demonstrated a devotion to both the physical and spiritual aspects of the dance.” Other artists featured in this exhibit included Romare Bearden, Howardina Pindell, Palmer Hayden, Archibald Motley, and Elizabeth Catlett. As an artist, Delsarte wanted to show people to a different, hopefully better, place—and it is to be hoped that he will continue to do so for some time to come.
Lewis, Samella, African American Art and Artists, University of California Press, 1990.
American Visions, February-March, 1993, p. 10.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 6, 1998, p Q7.
Brandywine Workshop, http://www.brandywineworkshop.com/shop/Artists/Delsarte.htm
New York University, http://www.nyu.edu/publicaffairs/newsreleases/b_FIVE_shtml
Philadelphia Weekly, http:www.philadelphiaweekly.com/archives/article.asp?ArtID=515
Smithsonian Institute, http://newsdesk.si.edu/news-from-smithsonian-museums-an/arts-and-industries-building
Union College, http://www.union.edu/PUBLIC/ECODEPT/kleind/artists/louis_delsarte.htm
—Christine Miner Minderovic
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