Byron Keith Byrd's Art Institute Retrospective Reclaims Abstract Expressionism

A brief artist statement at the beginning of the Art Institute's Byron Keith Byrd retrospective includes this declaration: "I am inspired by numerology, rhythmic, primitive markings and archaic symbols, and I selected each painting to indicate the passage of time." I get the first part — Byrd's canvases are dotted with numbers and symbols that hint at some sort of hermetic system. They're like dreams waiting to be decoded.

But there's also more than a little irony here. The Malibu-based artist's vibrant, mostly large-scale abstractions seem to be not so much about the passage of time as about time standing still. And the expansive point in time they reference is the period from the mid-1940s through the 1950s, when such abstract expressionists as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock ruled the roost.

That's not to say Byrd's work is nostalgic. Rather, his densely layered canvases recall the assertive (some might say strident) individualism of artists whose art was, above all, about its own making. This is painting about painting — art whose narrative is an existential drama that plays out before us strictly on its own terms.

Waterlily by Byron Keith Byrd.
Waterlily by Byron Keith Byrd.

Location Info


Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale

1799 Southeast 17th St.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

Category: Schools

Region: Fort Lauderdale


"Twenty Years & Counting: Byron Keith Byrd Abstractions 1991-2011"

Through January 14 at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.

In other words, like the original abstract expressionism, this is either/or art. Either you're willing to accompany the artist on his admittedly sometimes indulgent excursion into self-expression or you choose to stand on the sidelines wondering what all the fuss is about. Count me in the former camp. I found most of the nearly two dozen paintings in this solid little show captivating.

My Voice Nation Help

Defining art can be tricky! It can be different for every person – what it means to you may mean different to others. For anyone who is involved in this field would know its various areas and how it helps to convey a message, emotion and meaning. Generally smaller and more understated than paintings, these monotypes (some with mixed-media embellishments) nonetheless echo many of the compositional motifs and stylistic devices he used in his canvases, with their subtle, deft mixes of smudges, scribbly lines and veils of color .One can call it a form of indirect communication in which messages are conveyed in a representational manner. To define art is one of the most difficult philosophical challenges because everyone has their own opinion on beauty and these opinions are likely to contradict.