Work by Joseph Delaney, 1904-1991

LEWISBURG, Pa. — The Samek Art Gallery season was kicked off with a lecture by Sam Yates, the curator of "Life in the City: The Art of Joseph Delaney," the exhibit currently on display at the gallery.

Yates, director of the Ewing Gallery at the University of Tennessee and friend of Delaney, told a full house in an Aug. 29 lecture at the Gallery Theatre that the exhibit gives long-overdue attention to the late artist.

Presenting a slide show of Delaney’s work and adding anecdotes and personal memories, Yates said, "I hope viewers become aware of an African-American artist who was independent and steadfast, and passionate about New York City and its people."

The traveling exhibit is the first solo retrospective of Delaney’s art since his death in 1986. It includes works in oil, pen and ink, charcoal, marker, and pastels.

A native of Knoxville, Tenn., Delaney moved to New York City in 1930. Thriving on the city’s hustle and bustle, he drew and painted its people and architecture for more than half a century. The urban energy is palpable in his many paintings of crowd scenes —from packed subway cars to parades. Delaney was largely unsung during his lifetime but is now represented in prestigious collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

According to Yates, the artist felt that his figurative and pictorial style was a commercial disadvantage in the mid-20th century, a time when abstraction was popular.

"But he was always upbeat and positive," Yates added, noting the wry humor often visible in his paintings.

Delaney’s friends included novelist Alex Haley and painters Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, with whom he shared a spirit of fierce independence. Living in a series of Lower Manhattan flats as a squatter, Delaney frequently used common materials such as marker and Masonite. He studied at the Art Students League and for years attended weekly figure-drawing sessions there, producing remarkably confident and fluid renderings of nude models, many of which appear in the Samek show. (Listen to a WVIA-FM interview with Yates.)

For decades Delaney worked as a sketch artist in Manhattan, drawing portraits of passersby for a fee. A selection of these expressive renderings, as well as some of the artist’s 600 notebooks, was added to the show to further illuminate Delaney for viewers, said Dan Mills, Samek's director.

"While Delaney is known in his native Tennessee, we may be introducing him to a new audience in Central Pennsylvania," Mills said, adding that response to the show has been good. "The door is open for community and school groups to come in and take a tour of the exhibit, either guided by gallery staff or on their own."

Bucknell is the first stop for the traveling "Life in the City," which was organized at the University of Tennessee, where Delaney spent his final years as artist-in-residence. The exhibition closes Sept. 27.

For hours and appointments, visit Samek Art Gallery.

Posted Aug. 30, 2006

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