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Perspective | A painter went to Paris and dreamed of music

Palmer Hayden painted this charismatic little talisman of an image midway by means of a five-year spell in Paris (1927-1932). The sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller had moved to Paris on the flip of the century, however after her Hayden was one of many first African American artists to journey to Europe to check. “Untitled (Dreamer)” is small — it’s a few foot by a foot-and-a-half — however once you come throughout it on the Virginia Museum of Wonderful Arts in Richmond, you possibly can’t deny its radiance.

A part of what units it aside is its immediate legibility. We solely must look on the image to know that the person is listening to music in his desires. The self-esteem speaks to inchoate yearnings for inspiration, rhythm and bliss.

Hayden’s coloration heightens the depth of those yearnings. The fingers holding the guitar and the drumsticks emerge from a swirling, cloudlike sample of azure, which units off the deeper midnight blue of the wall. Each blues hum in opposition to the turquoise of the bedspread, the touches of gold (guitar and trumpet) and pink (drum and lips), and the dreamer’s black pants, pores and skin and hair.

Hayden (he was christened Peyton Cole Hedgeman however later modified his identify) was born in Widewater, Va. He was in New York through the early years of the Harlem Renaissance, which clearly rubbed off on him. However after successful some prizes, he sailed for Paris in 1927.

By this time, he had already painted “Fétiche et Fleurs” (1926), a nonetheless lifetime of flowers alongside a Gabonese Fang head standing on a Congolese Kuba textile. At a time when figures resembling W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke had been urging African American artists to reclaim their cultural roots in Africa, this was one of many first work by an African American artist to include African artwork.

Going to Paris added complexity to all this. Hayden obtained typical coaching on the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. However he was within the trendy artwork he noticed throughout him. In “Untitled (Dreamer)” you possibly can really feel the spirits of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse — particularly within the flat, richly harmonious colours. You may as well sense the spirit of Henri Rousseau, the customs official who painted desires and fantasies of Africa’s jungles regardless of by no means having been there.

After all, Hayden hadn’t been to Africa both. He was influenced by the identical African objects that had impressed first Matisse after which Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Constantin Brancusi and a veritable roll name of inclined artists and designers on each side of the Atlantic. They had been all a part of what was referred to as “primitivism,” an aesthetic tendency with roots in colonialism. Primitivism has been criticized for patronizing, ignorant attitudes towards African (and Oceanic) tradition. It additionally modified the face of recent artwork.

Not like these European artists, Hayden was Black. He was involved in African tradition from a special and doubtlessly extra intimate perspective. Right here, he appears to have painted the sleeper’s face to resemble a masks of the type worn in Dan masquerades, in what’s at this time Liberia. Dan masks with closed eyes signify a turning inward to commune with the spirits.

Hayden was most likely conscious of all this. However he was a person from Virginia who liked being in Paris. And the concept acquired maybe the strongest maintain on him was not Dan cosmology, however the notion (which additionally appealed to Matisse and Picasso) that simplicity may very well be extra truthful, extra genuine, than technical sophistication.

It may well appear to be Hayden took a sophisticated path to reach at that time. However the dynamic between simplicity and class is as previous as tradition itself. It’s as if we’re always in search of aid from the vertiginous brilliance of which our minds are succesful. We invent rocket ships and computer systems, run corporations, write exhaustive research, jockey for energy. However at night time we dream of music and dance.


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