Island of Hallucination auctioned at Evidence Dance Company Charity Ball

An american in ParisEvidence, A Dance company, was founded by Ronald K. Brown in 1985, with a mission to promote understanding in the African diaspora through dance and storytelling.
 
On March 25th, 2013, Evidence held its 9th annual ball at the Plaza Hotel.  Ealy Mays' "An American in Paris: Island of Hallucination" fetched $7,500 in an auction for this wonderful cause.  Philanthropist, Patron of the Arts, Gala Chair, Chairman Emeritus of the Board, and Ealy Mays collector Reginald Van Lee led a star-studded event with Honorary Chairpersons Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee and hosted by actress Lynn Whitfield.  Former top model and Ebony Fashion Fair coordinator and commentator Audrey Smaltz, also an Ealy Mays collector, charmed the audience of dignitaries and luminaries, the likes of opera diva and 2009 Medal of Arts winner Jessye Norman, in her description of the artist Ealy Mays and in her explanation of the piece of narrative artwork. 

Though much of African America’s literary and artistic legacy lies in Paris, many in America remain ignorant of the largesse.  With the auction of a piece of artwork for a charity event, a small piece of the narrative of events surrounding the life of author Richard Wright, then the most important African American writer on the planet, was explained.  By all measures this was a success, as it is consistent with the promulgation of Ealy May’s artwork, which is the dissemination of historical narratives and social commentaries through art. 

An American in Paris: Island of Hallucination

The title of the painting was borrowed from Richard Wright’s last manuscript (unpublished), which though set in North Africa, played on and fictionalized much of the intrigue and betrayals that had engulfed the expatriate community of writers on Ile de France in the 1950s.

The fabulous age of the African American writers saw more than a intrigue unfold in 1950s Paris among the key writers:  Richard Wright, Oliver Harrington, James Baldwin, Richard Gibson, and William Gardner Smith.  Café Tournon, Café Monaco, Les Deux Magots, and Haynes Restaurant, were the main haunts for these writers.   While Chester Himes was in an out of the group, his personality and movement beyond Paris and to other parts of Europe such as Spain, made him largely unaffected and above the drama unfolding in Paris.  Himes cared too little about Paris and its nuisances or the idiosyncrasies of his fellow expats, to have allowed himself to be dragged into their personality differences.  Richard Wright was the king-maker who had played a role in encouraging the writers to come to Paris, and as such, was a mentor to most, especially James Baldwin.

However, the time was the 1950s of McCarthyism in America and Richard Wright (former communist with a wide platform to denounce racist America from France), was subjected to intense FBI and CIA scrutiny, even in France.  Actor Gregory Peck is alleged to have refused to take a seat at Les Deux Magots, on being told that Wright and friends were in dining.  Even mere passing association was viewed as toxic.  English poet Christopher Logue who was a friend of writer William Gardner Smith said of the atmosphere at Café Tournon in the late 50s, “Everybody thought everybody else was spying on someone or other for somebody.

Most intense was the relationship between Richard Wright and James Baldwin.  Chester Himes attest to disputes between the two in his presence.  Wright came to feel hurt by what he considered the betrayal of his protégé and literary mentee Baldwin, who had taken to criticize Wright’s Native Son characters as effectively lacking substance.  Baldwin’s “Everybody’s Protest Novel” was also viewed as a clear shot at Wright’s type of literature, which he deemed ‘Protest Literature”.   In “Nobody Knows”, Baldwin effectively acknowledged his betrayal, “I mentioned Richard and Richard thought I was trying to destroy his novel and his reputation…. I was wrong to have hurt him… I used his work as a kind of springboard into my own… for me, he had been an idol.  And idols are created in order to be destroyed”. 

Both men carried their frayed relationship to the grave.

L’affaire Gibson

Bad relations taken to another level culminated with Richard Gibson’s article in Life Magazine, critical of the French government’s policies in North Africa, to which Gibson signed Oliver Harrington’s.  “Hopeful Plan For Algeria” had appeared in the September 30, 1957 issue of Life while letters of similar contents were also sent to the London Observer.   The articles were critical of the French government’s policies in Algeria and were supposedly signed by cartoonist Ollie Harrington.

The expatriate writers were allowed to live in France on the condition that they not meddle in internal French politics.  Ollie Harrington, an avowed communist who would later flee to East Germany where he spent the rest of his life, was at the time, the closest friend to Richard Wright, whom many suspected to be the ultimate intended target for retribution by the French government.  Gibson’s article was thought to be an effort to undermine Harrington’s close friend Richard Wright, who at that time endured immense US governmental pressures for his left leaning views and his denunciation of racism in America.  Ironically, Wright was at the same time being denounced by the communist and the left in France, for being a part of the bourgeoisie.   What became known as “l’affaire Gibson” was thought to have been meant to trigger the expulsion of Wright from France and back into the hands of the United States government.  

Richard Gibson who is a descendant of legendary painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, was invited to Paris by his friend and fellow Philadelphian, William Gardner-Smith.  Gardner-Smith, who would later write his own novel, “Stone Face”, which touched on issues of anti-Arab racism in 'liberal' France, was also thought to be part of the plot in “l’affaire Gibson”.  However, during the investigation by the French authorities, Gardner-Smith denounced his friend and former roommate Richard Gibson, as the one who had in fact written the article, to which Richard Gibson admitted and was kindly ‘invited’ to depart France. Richard Gibson is today, the only on of the participants who is alive.

Elements of a painting:

  • Black woman takes center stage on her Louis xiv chair and suitcase.  She asserts herself as the real American in Paris – Maybe Bricktop, Josephine Baker, Grace Jones, or so many other African American women who shone in Paris.   The arrival of the beautiful black woman in Paris was always an exotic event.  But Paris is also a place of moving chairs of importance and so the astronaut (Neil Armstrong) arrives to dethrone her.  He believes he is the Real American in Paris (symbol of American dominance). 

 

  • Middle doors opens up to the sight of a few buildings in the back and in comes the astronaut (white American in Paris) to dethrone her. He believes he is the Real American in Paris.  Jockey boys at the foot of her chair marvel at the slices of blue watermelon. Jazz, Mammy, and jockey boy fade to their place in catacomb when she is home.
  • Artifacts of a cultural Parisian abode include samurai armor adorns. Column walls are papered with Fleur-de-lis (continued royal and aristocratic nature of many elements of French society). Paintings are on the wall. Books are in bookcases.  Photo of Josephine sits atop the piano. The Pope stumped over in lower right.  Al Jolson laughs on in black face as he did in those days – both at black people and into making himself a fortune.  Black cat scratching some white drop sheet (ignored Arab community that no one wants to talk about in Paris and with which William Garner Smith was obsessed).
  • Picture of Ira Aldridge on upper (early African American in Paris) left while the cast of characters on the upper right include Richard Wright, James Baldwin, William Gardner Smith, Richard Gibson, and Ollie Harrington.  The open laptop on the chair with an eye looking at everything is also listening to everything, a reflection of the environment of governmental monitoring which engulfed the expats in the 50s. 

Welcome to Ealy Mays Artworks

Celebration of over 150 years of Black Literary and Artistic development in Paris

Here you will find the works of one of the most prolific African American artists. Based in Paris, France, this selection includes current masterpieces as well retrospectives from a body of over 30 years as an ethnic artist painting in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Your choice of paintings, prints, posters, postcards, puzzles, memorabilia, T-shirts, collectibles, accessories,and more, is only a click away. Read more

It is the spectator and not life, that really mirrors art”  The Picture of Dorian Gray …Oscar Wilde

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