Montrose VA, 1958-1988
Opening on the late artist’s birthday, “Montrose VA, 1958-1988” centers what David Byrd considered his magnum opus: an eponymous handmade book detailing observations made during a three-decade career as an orderly in the psychiatric ward of a VA hospital. Certain pages of the book are displayed in vitrines around the gallery, as well as related paintings and archival materials.
Quiet pencil drawings depict vague, simplified institutional spaces, such as a rec room and corridors ringed with alternating light and shadow, in a restrained, bleached palette. Gentleness pervades both the works’ making and their depictions of patients: soft, rounded figures that induce a sense of sweetness with only a few strokes of a silhouette, as in Untitled, n.d. Though the works are suffused with empathy, capturing with poignant immediacy patients’ confusion, paranoia, anguish, and leisure, among other obscure emotions, Byrd painted exclusively from memory.
Throughout his life, Byrd was intent on showing the book, but was not able to—he was granted recognition late in his life, and did not show until a few months before his death at 87. That long-time dream is honored with this exhibition at Anton Kern—and its accompanying publication, a faithful reproduction of the original book.
David Byrd, Untitled, n.d. Pencil on paper, 10 1/2 x 14 inches.