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Past Exhibitions: 2008 2007 2006 2005

gibson byrd five decades

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Past Exhibition:

D. Gibson Byrd(1923-2002):
Five Decades In an Artist's Life

April 18 - May 31, 2008

Opening Reception: Friday, April 18, 2008 6-9pm - a Gallery Night

D. Gibson Byrd (1923-2002):

D. Gibson Byrd remained an active painter almost to the end.

In his final years, after his body was so badly ravaged from Parkinson’s disease that he could no longer drive a car, he had his wife, Benita, pilot him through rural Dane County, Wisconsin, and later, San Diego County, California. When he happened upon a vista that he found especially ravishing, he directed Benita to pull over to the side of the road. There, working with a hand that was one of the few parts of his body yet to give up on him, he rapidly produced color and black and white plein air drawings. Later, back in his studio, the drawings served as prototypes for highly finished landscape paintings that seemed drenched with the mood of an artist who, at this stage, had a profound awareness of the ticking clock.

D. Gibson Byrd (1923-2002): Five Decades In a Painter’s Life is intended as mini-retrospective of one of Wisconsin’s most revered artists and art teachers of the second half of the 20th century. The exhibition not only includes landscapes from his late years, but also works from earlier periods. Among them are the surrealist/realist paintings which brought him his first notice as a professional artist, portraits, and conceptions of a subject that figured prominently in his art and writing: the modest, possibly haunted Tulsa, Oklahoma house of his youth.

Byrd was of Shawnee Indian heritage. James Auer, late art critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, once observed that “the strong feeling for the land” that palpitates in much of Byrd’s work might have been traceable to his ancestry. What also gives Byrd’s paintings their particular mood and weight, almost regardless of the subjects or when they were produced, is their suffusions of a distinctive light that, like the interiors of Bonnard, seem fluid and often, noirish.

Byrd served as a turret gunner in the US Air Force during World War II. The largest canvas in the show, Oh! Cold November (1974) - measuring 4 by 4 1/2 feet, provides what seems to be a flashback to his years in the military. The picture - a living room interior - depicts a nude, apparently sleeping woman on a divan. In the same space a large, blue-furred dog's attention is focused on a television tuned to the news. As curious as these components are, what may be even stranger is the view outside a window. There we see a B-17 bomber plane that appears to be crashing to the earth.

Following his service in the military, Byrd began his art studies under the GI Bill at the University of Tulsa where he received a bachelor’s degree. He studied next at Iowa State University in Ames where he received a Master of Fine Arts in painting. Beginning in 1952 and continuing for three years, he served as director of the Kalamazoo (MI) Art Museum and also taught art at the University of Michigan. He joined the art faculty of the University of Wisconsin--Madison in 1955 and remained there for 30 years before retiring in 1985.

Byrd’s paintings can be found in numerous public collections, including the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, and, in Wisconsin: the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Chazen (formerly Elvehjem) Museum of Art in Madison; the Madison Art Museum and the Wisconsin Museum of Art, West Bend.
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