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 William J. (Bill) Girard  (1940 - 2011)

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Lived/Active: Michigan      Known for: classical themes, mythology, religion

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The motifs that run though the work of Bill Girard are literally the stuff of legend, story and myth. His sources are manifold, including Egyptian art, Etruscan sculpture, Greek and Roman myths, Shakespeare, the Old Testament, Oriental art, cubism, and mannerism.

Fresh out of high school at the end of the 1950s, this already balding kid from a blue-collar family enrolled in the Art School of the Society of Arts and Crafts in Detroit, Michigan. The school, directed by the nationally recognized artist, Sarkis Sarkisian, was a local manifestation of an international movement that reflected the increasing relevance of aesthetics to the growing middle class.

Girard's talent manifested itself early. Betty Cook, his eighth grade art teacher, told him that he made the nicest pencil drawings she had ever seen. His high-school art teacher, Don Stephan, took a personal interest in helping the young artist. He introduced Girard to the Detroit Institute of Art, as well as to the noted area gallery owner and artist, Anna Werbe.

A semester and a half into his course of study at the Art School, Girard was forced to drop out. However, impending fatherhood and lack of formal educational credentials didn't derail Girard's career in the arts. Girard merely worked harder and longer. Ever resourceful, he worked for a time as a hospital orderly, and later as a model maker for a local car manufacturer. He continued painting. In 1968, the art school that Bill Girard had dropped out of some nine years earlier hired him as a drawing instructor.

Over time, the Art School of the Society of Arts and Crafts grew into an expensive, private art college, the Center for Creative Studies (CCS). In 1980, Bill Girard became Professor Girard.

Girard loved teaching art. He shared his knowledge enthusiastically with any student who cared to learn or question. His assignments, however, were invariably limited to first year students and Saturday extension courses. Beginning drawing. Painting 101. Traditional painting methods (fresco, egg tempera).

Girard was dedicated to a personal variation of classical narrative art in a period in which such an approach was considered declasse at best, and obsolete at worst. His work was labeled "illustration." At this time, abstraction, conceptual art and non-figurative painting ruled the art world.

Despite all such denigration, Girard refused to be budged from his chosen path. Carefully glazed, beautifully drawn, attentive to light, his paintings looked, at first glance, like the work of a Renaissance artist. And so they were.

The tools of the trade that so many other artists had abandoned, found a new home in the hands of Bill Girard. Slowly, patiently, he re mastered the techniques of the "Old Masters" and applied them to his own work. His oeuvre includes fresco techniques, egg tempera, silver-point, as well as figurative oil painting and sculpture in terra cotta and bronze.

In 1998, after 30 years as a teacher at the same institution, Girard and a number of his colleagues attempted to organize a union. "It appeared to many of us," said Girard, "that the College was following in the footsteps of for-profit businesses by eliminating full-time faculty members in favor of cheaper, younger and more easily controlled, part-time instructors. While this might work fine in the business arena, it was no way to sustain a tradition of excellence in art education."

The art college consequently decided not to renew Girard's contract. The union drive ultimately failed. Despite the immediate financial consequences, Girard felt that he had been freed from an oppressive environment. He was completely free to be himself as an artist for the first time.

One needn't be a particularly acute observer to notice that the common denominator behind much of Girard's work is something akin to humor. In particular, his later paintings and sculpture are filled with whimsy.

"Today," says Girard, "a lot of my story paintings are tongue-in-cheek. After 30 years as an art instructor, you get tired of pomposity. Now, as I'm older, I think that silliness is one of our saving graces."

Among other projects, Girard recently completed a series of 12 small paintings for a chapel at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. He has recently painted several sizable wall murals for the home of a successful, suburban Detroit couple.

Written and submitted November 2004 by Glenn Michaels, former student of Bill Girard. "He remains both an artistic mentor and a friend. I have known Bill since 1980."

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