Likely, the universe was made by mind, the God, if you will, if not, no matter, nothing at all. Before matter, information: before anything is made, idea, alike the programmer who enters code, alike the mechanic who conceives an engine, before all creation there is information, an idea which has no physical presence, yet physically presents itself in conception, in formation of material into reality. The brain creates no thing at all, controls no thing at all, the brain is a sense organ stimulated by reality; the mind and soul are the body in whole. And what has this true theory to lend the Classive artist, William Girard: everything which is a thing, before it is a thing, in time.
The Progressive, the Classive, structures that organize a World View. The Progressive: ancient, pre-Socratic, Milesian, a notion that all that is, is material, a material that might be air, fire, water, atom, quark; a notion that a pattern patterns change, evolving or devolving by random or organized selection; you know, the materialism of Thales and Demikritos, Darwin and Marx; matter in motion is all that exists, et cetera. Yet, you ask, “How does material come to be before material.”
The Classive: classical, Platonic, Athenian, a notion that all that is, is of idea, immaterial, the essence of all material things. You will notice: the Progressive is a singularity of material; the Classive is a duality of material and idea (body and soul, if you will). You will agree, that before a thing can be, there must be an idea of the thing, a code imprinted by a maker, as in a computer program, as in the universe … before time, in the beginning, matter was an idea that came to exist by design.
You might accept a Progressive World View, you might enjoy a Classive World View, each view matters for all the world. Classive artists conceive all that is or might be in idea; Progressive artists reduce all to material. The Classive reveals the world of story, discovery. The Progressive tells the world in fact, statement. For example, reference the Classive, National Gallery of Art (NGA), West Building; the Progressive, NGA, East Building. (See NGA illustrations, at bottom.)
Implications of World View are obvious, more in collecting patterns of Progressive Materialists (curators, donors, administrators), those of the Knowledge Class (university, media, government), than in artists, the majority of whom are Classive, and so are ignored, absent from museums, written-out of the History of Art. Why. Progressives are simpleminded, troubled by complexity; and besides, where would the recent four generations of Classive artists fit-into the East Wing vacuum … Pei did not put-in enough art-closets, and darn-it, the old-fashioned progressive-mods would be crowded-out.
And this, before proceeding to greatness: Progressive artists are, as mentioned, simpleminded, their things are blunt, flat, and dull, perfectly suited to illustrate text on a page; seldom does the painted or formed object illicit pleasures spiritual, transcendental. Classive artists are, as you will see, story tellers rich in metaphor, craftsmen sensual in conception, creators inventive in tradition; often, the classive picture or statue will carry idea form an artist’s soul physically into your epiphany. The Classive artist creates as does a God. The Progressive artist makes as does a machine. You see the difference. You know that what I speak is true.
If a ship was in the nature of wood, we would have ships by nature; we have ships by art, the idea made real.
Progressives would rather that you not know the truth. O well, you shall. This second sketch will follow the model of its type: a bit biography, a bit material condition, a bit comparison, and a bit appreciation. Here, for the The National Civic Art Society, an organization that promotes health, goodness, beauty in the civic realm, an organization for which I am a research scholar: Works of the Eminent, Classive American Artists … William Girard, a Classive artist at play in the Great Conversation of what was, what is, and what might yet be.
Detroit was a French outpost carved from dense woods, prosaically named, le détroit du lac Érié, “the ‘strait’ of the lake Erie” (“detroit”). Before then, for some 10,000 years, the strait was occasionally occupied by diverse peoples drifting over the earth, China to the Aegean, Pottawatomie to Cherokee. After the French, after the British, after defeat of the Mother Country, England, Detroit became an American city which would, in time, welcome the world’s people: it was into this city, made muscular by military and industrial accomplishment, that in 1940, the artist, William Girard, was born.
Girard’s upbringing was typical of a Calabrian boy of the period, of any boy Irish, Gambian, Jewish, Polish who attended government schools along the Detroit, Center Line streetcar track. There was little about the boy which seemed unusual, different from his fellows; sure, he could sight-read, paint oil-pictures (uninstructed), otherwise, alike many another young man he entered the military, briefly served, received an honorable discharge.
Then too, Bill was much loved by a devoted mother, a providing father, a young companion and brother. At nineteen, Bill Girard enrolled at The Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, enjoyed one semester instruction from the notable Walter Midner and from the skilled Sam Pucci, the only professional training he would receive. Girard withdrew for lack of funds … the young artist was broke, and too, he enriched a fellow student, the beguiling Bonnie Silver, with child, Christopher. So, he married, and off to work in factory he went, and then a second child, Inga.
Girard, as you will learn, was exceeding strongminded: he worked, he cared, he loved, he studied, he practiced, and one day, picture snuggled tightly under arm, Girard … well, the engaging Allen Abramson tells the story: Soon after the gallery opened,
a young man by the name of William Girard walked in. He was carrying a little baby in one arm and a painting in the other (A’mron). He needed money and wanted to sell the painting, so I took a look, and was shocked to find that it was painted in this century … I bought it on the spot.
Soon, Abramson, alike a prince, sponsored the artist (1965 through 1980) whom he employed to create whatever gave pleasure (9:00 to 5:00, daily), though occasionally, requesting something special to please a friend or satisfy a client, or provide a party entertainment. In time, both patron and artist were enriched beyond hope: Abramson, with a wealth of pictures and statues, his dearest love; Girard, with steady employment to provide for a family, latitude to grow in artistry and in conceptual scope.
In addition, Girard assumed a Yiddish patois, was introduced to Europe, to Asia’s stream of culture, to Russian goblets, to Chinese porcelain, to Pharaonic vessels, to sopranos, to gypsies, to diplomats, to the typical dispicables, actors, musicians, attorneys, bon vivants, to those persons you are likely to encounter at a delectable, Auntie Mame soirée, and this at Abramson’s twice weekly, dinner lavishes. Abramson joyed to grow a protégé of genius who filled the days with beauty, with wonder, with amusements; together, Abramson and Girard brought to life an art, new in the world. And here, in Allen Abramson’s lush apartments, Girard received an education in old-world aesthetics.
In taste, in skill and in thought, Girard was quickly growing the early, primitive, mythopoetic pictures into Quattrocento-like theological investigations, and from theology, a painterly exploration of transitions from earth religion to formal Christianity, to a mature, easy, self-aware blending of all human and cosmological history.
Professionally, Girard was growing away from the civilized cocoon of his fatherly patron into the wild flights of America’s ill-advised social liberations. Too, by notice of Sarkis Sarkisian, with assistance from Abramson, Girard in 1968 secured a teaching position at the Art School of the Society of Arts and Crafts, where he became a full professor, where for nearly thirty years he taught ancient and modern techniques of picture-making. There, Girard enjoyed collegium, the challenge and support of students and fellow professors.
Personally, in the early days of professional stabilization, his beloved wife, Bonnie, left the relationship, fled the city, exited the state with their children and the untethered Girard experimented in that prodigality a decaying city allows, followed by the usual effects of dissipation and withdrawal. As most know, retreat, withdrawal into solitude is necessary to the development of genius. Alone with books, thoughts, photographs that illustrated all the universe, the artist created and invented.
In time, by preternaturally skilled hands, Girard’s home grew as did his imagination, from common Detroit suburbity into a prodigy richly exotic, into a living work of art, into seeds from which all of Classive Art could be reborn. Girard would put up ceilings, pull down walls, make up myths in new colors, new forms to muse faeries and trolls that peopled themselves room to room, floor to floor, picture to picture. Any day you might leave a room where upon a wall some angry sprite would frown, next week to find the sprite had flown away and in her place some new, magical landscape appeared from mind out of time. And then, pictures nailed here or there would frame and unframe themselves, change inhabitant, Petunia to Titania, to Ariadne to Dovregubben*. As I was saying, the Girard home on Gardenia Avenue, Royal Oak, was a living, irrepressible work of art.
For forty years, Girard settled into productivity, creating, questioning, observing the world as would some inquisitive visitor, stranger to a land increasingly aberrant, increasingly troublesome. Each season the artist lived himself deeper into his art, into the peculiar, and the world fell away leaving but some few friends who would visit, as one visits a wise hermit in a cave. Girard lonely smiled, clapped his hands, and laughed himself into a final, demonically angelic, “silly” phase.
Following an illness grown from inattention, the artist passed-away. Friends regretted. Family mourned. The Muse sneered and walked on, we suppose. The patron, Allen Abramson, died some few years later; his estate was higgledy-piggledy dispersed. Some effort at record was made, yet not sufficient for catalog. A life was scattered. All the works of man scatter; in time, all is lost. For this time, we have the puzzle of a great artist hollowed, missing pieces, some never to be found. No fault, just life, and death, and between, what the God of Nature grants, and what we make of it. Well, that, and the corruption of museums, the marketing of Social Justice, discrimination against men, Caucasians, Classive Civilization, intelligence and the wisdom that allows a culture self-reflection, self-knowledge.
* * *
Likely, God had a plan for Adam, Girard did not. Girard created “Adam”, as was his custom, by allowing his hands to design with his mind. In fact, Allen Abramson (Girard’s patron) commented on the strange alchemy of the picture’s creation: “When painting, ‘Adam’, Bill’s hands seemed to have a life separate from his body.”
Girard too recalled an unusual evolution:
“…the paint was especially plastic and forgiving. The white ground was frightening. The painting came when the oils first touched the panel—I did not know where I was going, but the paint whispered then spoke, presenting himself as Adam. Adam needed room to grow, so I added panels. In one panel, Eve appeared reddish and dark, as if Mother Nature. Later, when the painting was first shown, it was noted that the areas where the belly-buttons should have been, were covered — was I suggesting that Adam and Eve were not born?”
As noted, the upper “Adam Portrait” was painted first, the ribbed panels were added, then one-by-one other blocks were built into the patterned picture—as can be seen by the linking strands of frame. You will notice that each frame strand replicates a panel’s organic vocabulary, synthesizes the natural and abstract forms to create novel variations on Creation’s central theme, the relationship of God to creation, God to man, man to woman, men to nature. Here, Genesis has doubled its alphabet, expanded the genetic story, much as the classic dramatists once expanded Homer’s mythic system, enriching, illuminating tradition. Few frames, since the Renaissance, have been so integral to a picture; none, perhaps, have been so telling of meaning in creation. Of framing a story, housing an image, Girard has said:
“Frames give paintings houses to live in. I build the houses to suit the paintings. Sometimes the paintings grow, and I add on. Sometimes, the painting is too large and needs to be cut down, to fit the frame.”
Curiously: visible at the frame’s base is a small round hole made from a bullet shot by one Rick Rubin while picture-sitting when Abramson was in China acquiring treasures. Another bit of biography: Adam is among those pictures and other works created when Girard was on salary to Abramson, 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., a salary which Abramson took pains to pay, so much did he respect the artist, honor genius, anticipated profit, et cetera. And, I did not intend to say, yet: Allen A. referred to this picture as, “John the Baptist” — why, I cannot say.
Another bit of biography: Girard, and others of Abramson’s circle, noticed that the subject person of a Girard picture would, on occasion, be met after the picture was painted — neither artist nor circle-of-friends having seen or had knowledge of the person before the person appeared in a picture as David or Jason or Adam or Eve. In the instance of this “Adam”, Girard soon met his doppelganger in John Spivac, about a month after completion of the picture. Spivac, alike Adam, was red-haired: “What are the chances”, the artist wondered, and went on to ask, “is this the first instance of a red-haired Adam in the History of Art”.
Of Adam, a few details worthy of attention:
the sensual, primal Adam is offered fruit by both snake and bird, the bird perhaps representing divine inspiration, the snake, sublime creation;
joining Adam in the central panel, a butterfly-eyed man, and a beast chained to time, the beast, it has been suggested, influenced Bill’s student, Wendy Midener Froud when jointly fashioning “Yoda” for the film, Star Wars (for Chewbacca’s father-cousin, you might again look to Bill’s beast) … the butterfly-eyed character puts me in mind of another Girard student, the remarkable, Hollywood concept artist, James Oxford;
the “Star-Eyed Snake” panel, lower left, nestles two eggs, perhaps, Cain and Abel;
the “Dark Eve” panel and the tree surrounding panels foreshadow later pictured trees of Knowledge and of Good and Evil;
in all, an inventory of Girard DNA is present in Adam’s iconography**.
* * *
Fauvel: A masterwork, though not of the Mona Lisa variety, rather more in the tradition of Aristophanes, distilled through Medieval Christianity. Before proceeding to formal analysis, laying the picture on a couch, the backstory.
In the 14th Century A.D., at the court of the French King (let us say, “Philip VI, or Louis X”) there lived a clerk, Gervais du Bus, who composed a wacky romance about an anti-hero named, Fauvel: F-A-U-V-E-L, Flattery, Avarice, Vileness, Variability, Envy, and Laxity, the “Seven Deadly Sins”. This hero, Fauvel, a fallow colored horse, sets himself up in a grand palace provided by the Goddess of Fate, “Dame Fortune”. There, Fauvel is groomed by officials of the Church who lovingly stroke to clean him of dung. Being comely and high, Monarchs far and wide traverse to bow before his majesty, to brush his snout and clean his bald bottom, each monarch eager for Fauvel’s approbation. Wanting a wife, in time, Fauvel proposes to Dame Fortune who denies him, recommending that he wed “Landy Vainglory”, which he does in marvelous ceremony attended by Flirtation, Adultery, Carnal Lust, and Venus. Concluding the story, Dame Fortune reveals that Fauvel’s role is to inspire other rulers to be alike Fauvel, an antichrist: and this story we have, as you see, straight from the horse’s mouth.
In this recent century after Christ, circa 1975, the Fauvel poems were set to music, recorded, and became commonly available; these recordings, and the stories in translation, were the cause of Girard’s “first version” Roman de Fauvel. That picture’s castle stood some eight feet tall, some six feet edge-to-edge, a dramatic setting complete with towers, singing altarpiece angels, castellations, a fore-stage and tympanum, the whole appearing alike a Bernini theatre-set, à la Monty Python.
Late last Century, when Pope John Paul II, Saint John Paul the Great, visited the United States (the 1993, World Youth Day visit), Girard reimagined his Fauvel staging, flattening the meaning, deepening the satire, missing the point of the Pope’s visit by sharpening the typical clichés. Fauvel was infested with hobgoblins of stereotype, villainously at play upon a checkerboard floor. Several of these stereotypes you will recognize: Colonel Oliver North carrying missiles; a six-shooter firein’, skeletoned John Wayne; Pope John Paul II as mitred puppeteer; and Avarice, and Lust, and Fauvel, an ass, influencing a childish monarch-of-the-world, pinwheeled and long-stockinged.
Girard, in a Fauvel of political theatre is faithful to Aristophanes, true to form. The XX Century Roman de Fauvel is acted from normalcy to oddity, crisis to catharsis, obscurity to new reality, a reality realized in the fiction of theatre. As Aristophanes will have recognized in disappointment: tonight the play, next day all’s the same, the old world is the old world yet, only the players have changed.
Seeing closely this Fauvel, we find paint, technical artistry rich as strokes by Velázquez, a brushwork alike the laying on of jewels, each stroke a spoken slash; jewel-rich the colors sun-stained, pierced into cut-glass; precious metal gold, warm Halloween orange burning itself into the surface; a bent nightmare awoken, broken, knifing the sense of sight.
Aristophanes, Girard too, was an artist private and closeted — good for us these two had a sense of humor, ability to self-laugh. Old Euripides, the tragedian, hadn’t humor; in failing days he took himself to cave, miserably alone. In all, probably best to laugh in sneers, to carry on, to accept the world as is; for, even if a great artist, there is little in hand to change; and, if a modish artist, if a social-justice czarist, if a progressive Marxist was to effect change, each would only muck-it-all up. Shelley was mistaken to proclaim artists “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”, they are not, “Praise Jesus!” When they are, well, we have seen the chaos that comes of it … witness the pictures of French Revolutionary artists, and remember the guillotine. Best, I think, that when an artist has a ball-bat, gun, or brush in hand, best to rush to studio, lay aside the ball-bat, take up the brush tinctured in color, and there to satirize in paint. For then, if artists were to become by ball-bated, legislators, who would satirize politicians; not the politicians, we all know how dull, how very dimwitted they are. Apology, Joe Biden, Carmel Harris, Nancy Polozi***.
* * *
We all know Creation, of some sort, through myth, through dogma (scientific or theistic), through observation. We know of Intelligent Design through science, experiment, fact. There is that creation which explains everything, and there is the little daisy in summer turning her face toward the sun. There is, of course, your creation, that moment in time when the planet of an egg is by a tailed sailor landed. Then, bang! explosion into unification, a prodigious growth alike the growth of the universe incomprehensible without mind. Essence, potentiality, you, the growth of a creature more rare than a star, more rare than the unnumbered planets of the 280 billion, known galaxies. God-like, you, a creature who can know not only everything beneath the sun, but everything beyond. In fact, we might say, “The universe knows itself by the mind of man.”
For truly, no thing can be known without mind; likely, no thing can be, without first an information in design. Imagine, as though you were an artist, as though you might create as does Girard, or as a demi-god, the ineffable creation of yourself magnified to all that is. If you can, you might grow to understand the challenge, almost impossible, to picture what is. Appreciate artists Michelangelo to Blake and you will understand the brilliance of Girard’s simple solution.
Michelangelo, for his part, heroically pictured episodes of Genesis, chapter by chapter from the Bible, as was his charge to do by Pope Julius II, the Fearsome. There, upon Sistine’s Ceiling, Pope and artist succeeded in picturing a vast novel, heaven-like, whose pre-Greek heroes (well, rather Pergamon Hellenistic) played universal in theatre … “God”, the man in his image, “Adam”, and all his ascendants “Noah”, “Moses”, et alia, sibyls, your descenders, and those luscious men who scholars, ladies, and some queers, have titled, “angels” … the whole, in scope worthy of a Dante or a DeMille.
Blake created not in commission from a pope, but as charged by the God Himself (as Blake has mentioned, sometimes by the God in personed appearance****). Blake, as you will remember, was commanded to prophesy Creation in a system terrible and sublime, which he wrote, and which he illustrated (should your imagination lack scope). The Book of Urizen codifies, within the covers of a comfy book, the Divine Mind struggling to define itself, an inchoate universe within time, yet before Time, a creation of Creation. Alike the Sistine Ceiling, which illustrates the Bible, “Urizen” illustrates Blake’s literary prophecy, metaphorically, in primal bodies, Reason, Dogma, Oppression, characters so broadly peculiar that they defy description … excepting Blake’s illustrations which picture these forces as reasoned-wild-men struggling in the essences — Urizen himself is cousin both to Michelangelo’s God and to our Kris Kringle. Both the great Michelangelo and the greatly unique Blake illustrate a “creation myth”: Girard, in a humble picture, personifies Creation.
Girard’s Creator is ambiguous, an apparition formed of imagination in atmosphere, alike a planet, hovering … a cloud paused in time, the mist, a sattva, tranquil. The Divine forms something of arms grown to hands growing to open as a cradle, as supplication. Within hands, water pooled falls, streams from precipice to abyss, depth unknown. Away, beyond our sight, our understanding. Naked trees rise from the mist of hands, upward reaching as do an apparition’s fingers. The face human, essence, not bone, not flesh, warm and cool resolving, androgynous, personality liminal, alike the sphinx, enigma, soul in consciousness. In truth, none of this is real but in your mind. Man alone sees and understands, if not a God.
* * *
Born: Detroit, MI, 1940
William Girard is a self-taught artist who mastered buon and secco fresco, egg tempera and black-oil, silver-point and other Old Masters methods. His pictuary and statuary is eclectic, Greek, Biblical, European, Eastern, and individually American. A sense of fantasy, of whimsy shows great imaginative power, an engagement with the Classive, Great Conversation.
Girard’s many students include the aquatic muralist Robert Wyland, and the monumental sculptor David Newton.
Fisher Theater, Detroit, MI
Cleveland Playhouse Guild, Cleveland, OH
Betty Kleinbaum’s, NY, NY
Silver’s Company, Detroit, MI
Adam’s and Eyve’s Gallery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
J. Walter Thompson Advertising Co. Gallery, Detroit, MI
Modello’s Bower Street Gallery, Detroit, MI
Curtis Gallery, Ann Arbor, MI
Business Consortium for the Arts, Southfield, MI
Cultural Arts, Southfield, MI
The Studio Gallery, Alexandria, VA
Fiorini Gallery, St. Petersburg, FL
* Should mention: WG claimed his Muse appeared troll-like, a wizened, glowering, disagreeable hermit.
** The DNA of Classive Civilization: Opera, Greek Mythology, Theatre, Auden, Ibsen, Lewis, Tolkien, and others in the Canon of Literature, the struggle of Good and Evil, Male and Female, Creation and Destruction, and most all dualities are typical Girard subjects and Girard themes.
*** Polozi translates, “hairy” … I know, that’s not funny, even so, I laughed.
**** Here, I do not doubt Blake: Once, when summering with the excellent Barbara McMurray, she and I were, upon a starry midnight, in a pitch-dark, isolated room where we were visited by a singular, sharp, divine light that presented itself as a pin’s-point before glowing, warming, growing to fill the hollow space of the room, of she and me … then, I’ve enjoyed other visitations, other experiences, as I expect have many, if not most of you.
= “Silly” as in, “blessed, blissful; a knowing innocence, angel-like; angelic”, before the etymological descent of “silly” into “foolish”.
+ If you have read this far, expect you will be interested to visit Giarard’s Visari, a website devoted to the life and works of William Girard.