1. Eulogy for William Girard
The following remarks are not for the faint of heart. This tribute is R-rated for combative language and bold and possibly offensive assertions. You may wish to cover your ears or eyes for the duration or otherwise distance yourself at this time.
Please allow a brief pause of five seconds in order to allow those concerned to prepare themselves.
What do you call a divorced, fat, slovenly, homosexual, first-semester college drop-out? Someone who couldnít spell Ė except creatively. Someone who declared bankruptcy three times. Someone whose respect for convention never went much further than say, seven of the 10 Commandments? What do you call a person who devoted most of his life and all of his adult life, to playing with mud and had the temerity to assert that mud really, really mattered?
Actually, I donít give a damn what you call someone like that. But maybe it will interest you to know what I called him.
I called William Girard, aka Bill Ė former professor of art and fine artist Ė my dearest friend, aside from my wife. I called him my mentor. I referred to him as my ďotherĒ father. He was the single man in my life I most wished to emulate. He was my exemplar of artistic integrity, decency and humility.
Initially, of course, I just called him ďprofessor.Ē Then ďBill.Ē Then, as I came to know his work better, I told others he was ďamazing.Ē For a long time I referred to Bill as a Minor Master. (That was when I was young and stupid.)
Now that itís too late, I know better. Bill Girard wasnít a Minor Master at all. He was one of Detroitís Living National Treasures. As far as Iím concerned, he was one of Americaís Living National Treasures.
Of course, Bill did his absolute best to hide his bonfire beneath the proverbial bushel. He walked away from or sabotaged opportunities that offended his aesthetic sensibility as often as possible.
I imagine he told many of you the story he told me about his big chance to exhibit in New York City.
Allan Abramson, Billís friend, patron, dealer and life-long irritant, arranged a show for Bill in the Big Apple through the auspices, I believe, of a wealthy, well-connected friend.
At the opening, Bill apparently found the company of the wealthy, high-fallutiní collectors in attendance difficult to cope with. So he repaired to the refreshment table. There he ran into an older couple helping themselves to copious servings of whatever. Actually, given Billís age at the time, chances are they werenít any older than I am now.
Anyway, the nice couple told him that they really didnít come to galleries to look at art. They said that they really came for the free food and drinks. Shades of Great Gatsby! Bill decided New York just wasnít for him.
Billís strategy worked splendidly. Today, sculptor and painter Bill Girard remains completely unrecognized. His work is unknown by critics with any clout. How could it be otherwise?
Bill rarely took photos of his work or kept track of who bought it. He didnít need them. His visual memory was darn near perfect. (He had perfect pitch, too.)
And, letís not forget that while Bill was teaching himself old master techniques, then souping them up to suit himself, much of the rest of the American art world was dancing in rapturous delight to the tunes of the Pied Pipers of aesthetics: Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Photo-Realism, Conceptualism, Color Field-ism, Mama- and Dada-ism.
The up-side of all this is that art addicts like yours truly had direct access to one of the most wonderful artistic resources, and one of the nicest, in the entire city of Detroit.
Because Bill generally side-stepped upwardly mobile and already rich collectors, aspiring artists and little people like me had a chance to drink from the richest spring of artistic insight and accomplishment imaginable. Because others with much valued Bill so little, those of us with very little could afford a few Bill Girards of our own.
Bill was what you might call a ďflawed vessel.Ē All of us are. Chipped here. Cracked there. Off kilter, maybe. A little lopsided. But what made the vessel we call Bill Girard, born in the home of mass-production, so extraordinarily special was the spirit that filled it to the brim.
Robert Henri called it ďthe art spirit.Ē In Billís case that spirit was so very refined, so remarkably pure that it proved virtually invisible to all but a few. In fact, a spirit of such high quality is so incredibly rare that many Ė most Ė who claimed some expertise as connoisseurs never noticed it, even when it stood right before their eyes. And as you know, it stood before their eyes over more than 50 years of professional activity.
Friends Ė and I call anyone my friend who loved and admired Bill Girard - it was, without doubt, the most intoxicating, addictive stuff I have ever encountered. In fact, as you can tell, I never recovered. And I promise you, Iím not alone in this.
In the non-fiction best-seller, The Black Swan, author, Nassim Nicholaus Taleb, sites studies by psychologist Philip Tetlock conclusively demonstrating that the ability of soft-science experts in politics and economics to predict outcomes five years in the future is inversely related to the expertís reputation.
In other words, the greater an expertís reputation Ė or, as I see it, the fatter the ego Ė the smaller the number of accurate predictions the expert made. Iíd wager that the same rule of thumb can be applied to art critics and collectors, especially those who denigrated the work of Bill Girard.
Like Bill, Iím an art school drop-out, an anti-expert. So for whatís itís worth, hereís my prediction: William Girard has left us a legacy that will someday bring smiles to faces in many museums and mansions. For the wrong reasons, perhaps. But smiles nonetheless.
I bettja that, someday, art historians will attend conferences and write erudite papers on such topics as:
Homo or Hetero? Sensuality and Suggestion in the Work of William Girard
Girard: Spiritual Heir of the Go for Baroque Spirit
Remastering the Old Masters: The Girard Approach
Eros, Apollo & Bill: A Figurative Love Affair
The Genes of Balmoral Castle in the Work of William Girard.
The Prince and Pauper of Fine Art: William Girard
Indeed, I have long dreamt of establishing and endowing an institution in Billís honor: The Girard Institute for Recognition of Artists, Restorers and Designers.
Oh yeah, Bill did lots of things wrong. Everything that didnít really matter. But he was a master of what he thought did matter.
Bill was the very best instructor I ever had, in any field. As I accumulated well over 250 college credits from the University of Michigan; Albert-Ludwigs Universitaet; the Center for Creative Studies; Studio Art Centers International; and Arizona State University, my credibility in this, at least, ought to be pretty good. Plus, Iíve collected many similar kudos about Bill from folks Iíve never even met.
Iíve also seen the inside of many, many museums in the US and Europe. And Iíve been deeply moved by my encounters there. But none of those experiences can compare to the first time Bill took me to see the home of Allan Abramson, on the Detroit River, back in the 80s.
Until youíve actually viewed a comprehensive collection of the work of William Girard, paintings, sculpture and drawing, large and small, as I did then, you simply canít imagine how dazzlingly imaginative, how very, very special, our dear friend really was.
I could go on and on about my Bill Girard. I will go on. But not just now. Now it's time for you to share your Bill Girard.
The vessel we called Bill Girard is gone. But I'm still tipsy. Bill's intoxicating, powerful and infectious spirit gives me joy every day. I hope it does the same for you and others, for as long as beauty, craftsmanship, wit and artistic courage are cherished.
I love you, Bill Girard. Feel free to drop in anytime.
Your spirit is welcome anywhere it finds me, anytime.
Glenn S. Michaels, 2011