December gallery shows: retrospectives and an evolving artist’s work

Three new shows in Seattle art galleries offer broad surveys of artists’ careers. Another captures an evolving midcareer artist in his latest phase.

Three new shows in Seattle art galleries offer broad surveys of artists’ careers. Another captures an evolving midcareer artist in his latest phase.

David Byrd and Michael Dailey

Greg Kucera Gallery is hosting not one but two miniretrospectives of artists with very different stories to tell.

“Drawings and Paintings” covers 40-odd years in the career of abstract painter Michael Dailey (1938-2009), who won considerable attention during his lifetime. “Drawing from Painting” by outsider artist David Byrd (1926-2013) lets you inhabit the mind and difficult life of a painter who didn’t have his first professional solo exhibition (at Kucera) until one month before his death at age 87.

Byrd’s idiosyncrasies are instantly identifiable as his alone. The show consists of more than 120 pencil sketches, many of them studies for the 26 oil paintings on display. The paintings resemble pale colored-pencil drawings, and it isn’t just Byrd’s color sense that’s eccentric. Through figure distortion and offbeat composition, he reveals the inner characters of the subjects he portrays.

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A number of works draw on his 30 years as an orderly at a VA psychiatric ward. In “Waiting and Aging” the contorted postures and twisted expressions of five patients (one seems to be growing a second face) tap directly into their troubled lives.

Other paintings address more ordinary walks of life — an auction, a bar scene — but use compositional imbalance, distortion or bizarre omission (in “Mop Wringing,” set in a supermarket, the mop is conspicuously absent) to draw the eye magnetically to the action.

Some of Byrd’s graphite drawings are marvelous, too. “Loose Sketch 116” uses a fastidious weave of pencil strokes to evoke a male head and nude torso, with disconcertingly robotic results. “Loose Sketch 117 (Eva)” is a more fluid portrait of Byrd’s mother, its tight framing of her figure emphasizing her tough, skeptical dignity.

Dailey’s large-scale, color-drenched, abstract paintings are the polar opposite of Byrd’s work. In covering almost five decades of Dailey’s career, the show traces his progress from 1960s landscape artist (“Hill by the Sea,” “Cold Distant Place”) to a color-field…

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