Making Bed in Coal Country. She's pregnant.
  • Courtesy the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery
  • Making Bed in Coal Country. She's pregnant.

When Jody Isaacson moved to the sleepy New York town of Sidney Center, she was immediately curious about a driveway she kept passing. It teemed with old wheelbarrows, cinder blocks, machine parts, pieces of wood, lawn mowers, wheels—all placed just so. It looked like a junkyard arranged by an aesthete, and for three years, she only marveled at it. When she finally worked up the nerve to knock on the door one night this past September, she found herself face-to-face with a house just as full—but of paintings. There were so many that they were hung three to a single nail: small, medium, large, so that when she took one down, there was a smaller one nested underneath.

David Byrd, the house's resident hermit, made all of the paintings. Because of Isaacson's intervention, he is having his first-ever gallery exhibition at Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, where Isaacson also shows. Byrd is 87. His first gallery solo comes 77 years after he attracted attention for his grade-school drawings, more than 60 years since his brief formal art studies with the Parisian cubist Amédée Ozenfant, and 25 years after his retirement from the humble occupation that provided his greatest artistic inspiration: being an orderly, for three decades, on the psychiatric ward at the Veterans Administration Medical Hospital in Montrose, New York—watching the aftershocks of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.

If Isaacson had not knocked...

"I thought an auctioneer would find my paintings after I was gone and sell them off—I just thought it would go that way," Byrd said by phone from an emergency-room waiting area in upstate New York last week, where Isaacson took him after he fell ill. His planned trip to Seattle was hanging in the balance. It was to be his first plane ride, traveling to be reunited with the almost 100 paintings, drawings, and sculptures that had already been shipped to the gallery.

"We've never done a show quite like this," says Greg Kucera.

Keep reading about it here, where there are also lots of images.

Here is Kucera's Byrd-pedia, with even more images.

And in case you're wondering, no, Byrd has not yet arrived in Seattle, and he already missed one flight (yesterday). I hope he will make it on his first plane ride. He is supposed to be at the gallery opening tomorrow night during First Thursday. Possibly he will be scowling at the crowd. It's easy to imagine him preferring to be alone with his paintings.

Below is a painting he made of his mother. When he was a kid, she worked as a movie ticket seller in Brooklyn. Sometimes she was able to support all six of her kids, sometimes not. She was a single parent.

Byrd paints entirely from memory.

Chapter Four, 1994
  • Courtesy the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery
  • Chapter Four, 1994

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