Byrd paintings are an important part of Midwestern visual art history. They are well-represented in numerous public and private collections throughout the United States, and particularly in Wisconsin.
The enduring depictions of rural landscapes have a strong feel for the land and are largely rooted in his Shawnee Indian heritage. He also worked in a variety of media including oils, gouache, and pastel. He was an expert in coloristic subtleties and atmospheric effects.
He was also an excellent draftsman and a skilled painter of figure portraits, though his style changed during the 1980s. He reverted to a more naturalistic approach, with the focus on the rural landscape of southern Wisconsin.
Although he painted a diverse range of subject matter, he focused on social justice and fairness in his work. He drew on his experiences as an orderly at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Montrose, New York, where he worked with veteran psychiatric patients. His paintings are richly expressive, evoking a sense of life’s hardships, and portraying a compelling integrity that he radiated as both a teacher and an artist.
His paintings were often exhibited in competitive, invitational, and one-person shows from 1949 to 1991. His paintings are in several museum and corporate collections, including the Milwaukee Art Institute, Madison Area Historical Society, and Wisconsin State University.
In 1988 he built his home-studio/gallery in the Catskills and spent the next several years painting from memory the people, places and situations that had interested him during his earlier lifetime.
Byrd’s paintings primarily focus on rural landscapes and the human figure, but his subjects are varied and include historical and folklore figures. He often works in oils, inks, and transparent dyes, but he has also used pencil, colored pencil, watercolor, chalk, graphite, and airbrush.
A number of his paintings are multi-layered, using a palette of colors with subtle variations in texture and value to create the sense of depth. In others, he employs a technique of repetitive linear brush strokes to block color, creating the impression of a digital noise. This technique appears to mimic the jutting edges of pixels on a screen or static on an old television.
Another approach in Byrd’s paintings is to paint a figure on a backdrop of negative space. He uses this technique frequently in his compositions, and it’s apparent in the realism of his portraits and landscapes.
His paintings are often reminiscent of the early 20th century masters of realism, with a strong sense of atmosphere and light. They often contain a strong sense of place, and they often feature landscapes and architectural details that evoke an emotional response.
His paintings and drawings reflect a strong feeling for the natural world, and they often depict social injustices. In addition, he drew on his experiences as an artist to develop a distinctive, personal style. He was a master of techniques and a keen observer of his surroundings, as evidenced in his many figurative studies and portraits of friends and family.