Palmer Hayden painted this charismatic little talisman of an image midway by way 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 Positive Arts in Richmond, you may’t deny its radiance.
A part of what units it aside is its prompt legibility. We solely must look on the image to know that the person is listening to music in his desires. The vanity speaks to inchoate yearnings for inspiration, rhythm and bliss.
Hayden’s coloration heightens the depth of those yearnings. The arms 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 towards the turquoise of the bedspread, the touches of gold (guitar and trumpet) and crimson (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 title) was born in Widewater, Va. He was in New York throughout the early years of the Harlem Renaissance, which clearly rubbed off on him. However after profitable 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 comparable to W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke have 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 fashionable artwork he noticed throughout him. In “Untitled (Dreamer)” you may really feel the spirits of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse — particularly within the flat, richly harmonious colours. You can too 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.
In fact, 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 prone artists and designers on either side of the Atlantic. They have been all a part of what was once known 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.
In contrast to these European artists, Hayden was Black. He was enthusiastic about African tradition from a distinct and probably 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 present 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 beloved being in Paris. And the concept bought 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 will possibly 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 continuously searching for reduction from the vertiginous brilliance of which our minds are succesful. We invent rocket ships and computer systems, run firms, write exhaustive research, jockey for energy. However at night time we dream of music and dance.