There are many ways to define the 1940s. Some say the decade was overshadowed by World War II, especially considering that celebrities themselves joined the fight and American culture was saturated with its bloodshed. Still, this era brought us Tupperware, the Jeep, the Frisbee, and brought good fortune to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra. Though Jazz became popular in the ‘20s, it’s success was still something to boast about in the 40’s. Unsurprisingly, Jazz was a big influence for one Louis J. Delsarte, an African American artist  born September 1, 1944,. There’s a multitude of ways to define Delsarte, as well. Born in Brooklyn, Delsarte is known for what is called his “illusionistic style.” He is a painter, muralist printmaker and illustrator. A profound figurative expressionist, Louis has been painting since 10 years of age. He was never without his sketchbook. On subways, he would surreptitiously draw other travelers, so as to not get in any trouble. He was fascinated by people and surrounded by music. This, and his knowledge of African history and culture, greatly influenced his artistry.

“One Of The Preeminent Colorist Of His Generation” – Kevin Sipp

Adam and Eve

Delsarte went to high school in Brooklyn. He obtained a certificate in Fine Art Education from Brooklyn college, his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at Pratt Institute and his master’s at the University of Arizona.  

His art style is usually figurative, noted for strong colors and complex compositions. He describes his own methodology as a clash and meeting of fantasy and civility, realism and abstract.  Perhaps something of a perfectionist, Delsarte has asserted that he’s prone to working on a single painting for more than ten sessions. His process involves a mixture of discipline and free spiriting, as shown by his habit of laying canvases on the floor and applying paint without even truly seeing where it hits. He doesn’t process or adhere to the drawn image until later, and he will then allow the paint to dry and work vertically on the canvas for a more disciplined drawing. He will return to the unorganized phase if he feels the image is losing its figurative zest. He artfully mixes representational rigidness with a chaotic free-for-all style for what has been referred to as an altering relationship between the figure, the painted space outside of it and the influence of music. 

Delsarte, Louis, (The Letter)

“The Letter” by Louis Delsarte

Behind every great individual is about twenty other great individuals, all saying, “Hey, why not?” Delsarte grew up very cultured, with his parents and grandparents deeply involved with African American culture especially the Harlem Renaissance. He comes from a line of educators and activists who sought to help the youth of New York City. Louis Delsarte the Second began St. John’s day camp for young people and mentored a variety of individuals who would go on to be successful, including Earl Graves, the publisher of Black Enterprise magazine  Louis Delsarte I, his grandfather, was one of Brooklyn’s very first African American dentists. He devoted much of his time to giving free dental care to the poor. Undoubtedly a result of the kindness of his ancestors, Louis Delsarte III’s has shown a spirit of avid benevolence. His art serves as an agent of positive social change in the communities he holds dear. His generosity has benefited organizations such as Jack & Jill of America, Habitat for Humanity, and Atlanta Youth Academy. He has taken on many mural projects including Transitions for the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority and New Hope Visions at the Southwest Arts center in Atlanta, Georgia. His Martin Luther King  Memorial Mural is one hundred twenty nine feet long and was installed at the King National Site on Atlanta Georgia. In 2001 ,his work was part of a national traveling exhibition named “When the Spirit Moves: African-American Dance in History and Art,” sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. The exhibition itself began at Spelman college.

Tranquility by Louis Delsarte

Delsarte gives back to the printmaking community as well, awarding fellowships to artists to work with him. He’s received services awards such as the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc’s Community Service Award for outstanding philanthropy, and has been honored by Black Art in America itself for fifty years of artistic creativity in 2013 in Black Art In America Presents: Royal Vanguard Artists of Distinction.

It’s hard to write a proper conclusion for a man whose work speaks for itself. Delsarte is an example of what culture can do for a person, how knowledgeable  appreciation manifests itself in goodwill. I look at his history and I see a gift. How cool would it be to have a family that has charity in its very bones? It’s almost enough to give you pause, make you doubt whether or not you, with just your bare hands and bare soul, are enough to do anything at all. It’s enough to make me wonder myself…

“Untitled” by Louis Delsarte

Then, I look at his MLK mural. I look at the colorful, surreal buildings in the background. I see the faces of King and his fellow protestors and then I don’t. There’s this hazy paint that seems to resemble air.  It moves throughout the crowd, snaking its way through the people like chains. I can’t really make out the faces of the people, all smudged and obscure.

It’s scary until you look at it for what it is.

The dream keeper’ by Louis Delsarte

Delsarte doesn’t make it easy. I see paint strokes but what do they mean?  Are those southern hills across the man’s suit, homage to home and depiction of the bumpy path to freedom? Is it the palpable determination of the crowd, the way it unites us in a kaleidoscope of courage, strength in every shade and reflection? 

It’s of no import. They are together and they are fighting. As the murals comes into focus, I think of Delsarte’s own words, how he thinks of all his works as murals, just framed individually. I think of how we are all just one entity, a child, an adult, a heavenly body reaching for every breathe it deems possible, shifting its presence to protect its weaker components. 

I think of how nothing is ever concrete or of one definition. I think of the man who started me on this adventure. “I don’t think I’m ever finished,” he says.

Nether is evil, neither is injustice, neither are we.

Rhythm Across Generations, Louis Delsarte

“Louis Delsarte recalls his experiences as a post Harlem Renaissance youth growing up in Brooklyn. He was surrounded by icons like Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne and others that his parents and grandparents were close to. Delsarte’s latest work in collaboration with Brandywine Workshop is a small edition of 40 lithographs. This original image was created as a result of Delsarte’s creating an original work on mylars, while working with Master Printer, Allan Edmunds at Brandywine. The Harvard Art Museums hold an earlier Delsarte work at the museum where it garnered the most interest from students due to the intricate details. The previous print Unity has been used as a teaching tool since the 2018-2019 school year at Harvard University. The new work, entitled Rhythm Across Generations, sums up the artist’s belief that music lives across generations and is essential to daily living. Only a limited number from this edition of 40 will be available for sale. Proceeds support the 2020 Delsarte Book Project. Email for more information or to arrange a studio visit. Thank you in advance for supporting Delsarte’s research and the studio initiatives.” – Jea Delsarte

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Cynthia Short is a high school senior and current summer Fellow at Black Art in America. She has been writing creatively since the age of 12. She specializes in the creation of poetry. Born and raised in Columbus, Georgia, Short has dipped her feet into the theatre and slam poetry scene. She was a competitor at the 2018 Brave New Voices festival, a national slam competition. Her team won Best of Brave New Voices there. She plans to major in English and become an author. #bravenewvoices

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