Prismatic Louise by James Byrd

Prismatic Louise, 1987, enameled steel, 80 x 78 in.


I am a self-taught artist born in Gloster, Mississippi in 1935, mid-way through the great depression. My father moved us to Stockton, California in 1941 where he found work as a carpenter at the war-time Stockton shipyards building Liberty ships. In 1942, we moved to Sunnyside, Washington where my father opened a cabinet shop. There were no galleries or art programs in the small towns in which I lived growing up, leaving me to follow notions of my own invention.

After graduating from Amador High School in Pleasanton, California in 1953, I got, without any training, a job as an illustrator at Westinghouse Electric Company in Sunnyvale, California, making airbrush renderings of design concepts for the Polaris submarine program.

In 1962, I spent a year traveling Europe with my wife, Lillian, and daughter, Jennifer, frequenting the museums of Paris, Amsterdam, and Madrid, then returned to Sunnyvale and took a job as an illustrator at Lockheed Missile and Space Company designing brochures and making illustrations of the Gemini Agena space program. My wife and I added a second and third daughter to our family, and a few years later divorced.

In 1970, I quit my aerospace job, moved to San Francisco and rented a building south of Market that a hundred years earlier had been the offices of the Enterprise Brewing Company, where I spent the next 40 years making art.

I currently live in San Francisco with Mary Gullekson, my wife of 43 years. I continue to paint, work out ideas on the computer and write fiction.

Shake Down by James Byrd

Shake Down, 1961, oil on canvas, 70 x 60 in.


Inspired by the explosion of Abstract Expressionism in the 1950?s, artists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, I began to make larger, bolder, nonrepresentational paintings.

In the mid-sixties I made shaped wall structures painted over with suggestive images and soft shapes of printed fabric stretched over wooden armatures resembling airplane wings to be hung on the wall.

Blue Nile by James Byrd

Blue Nile, 1984, oil on canvas, 90 x 74 in.

In the late sixties, intrigued by a culture fascinated with prolonging life and mastering immortality by artificial means, I composed a small series of semi-soft sculptures mocking the frailty of the human condition.

I spent most of the seventies painting abstract oils on linen and gouache on paper, exhibiting them in multiple galleries.

Enameled Steel

In the early eighties, I designed and built several large electric kilns in which I fired steel panels covered over with granulated glass that in its unfired state resembles powdered sugar. Each panel required multiple firings at 1450 degrees, each manipulated to match the next. As many as 50 firings were sometimes required to make one piece of art, and since the true color of the fired glass is far more brilliant, and sometimes transparent, than that not fired, it took years of experience to learn each colors properties. The finished panels were then adjoined on wood racks to create works of multiple pieces. Many of these large works are in private and corporate collections around the country.

Drippipng Totem by James Byrd

Pale Finale, 80 x 39 in., 1968, ceramic, silk, metal, glass

Blue Pharoah by James Byrd

Blue Pharaoh, 96 x 93 x 9 in., 1986, enameled steel

Pale Finale by James Byrd

Dripping Totem, 84 x 56 in., 1969, rubber, glass, metal, pump, speaker

James Byrd in San Francisco, 2017

San Francisco, 2017

By 1990, acquiring material for the enameled steel work became increasingly difficult. This, among other reasons, brought me back to painting.