Bob Byerley Biography
Painter of Our American Childhood
Close your eyes and think back to your childhood, back to a time when everything was not only new and exciting but also possible, when having a storytelling grandpa and a lemonade stand and a bicycle to race through the streets and down the hills in your neighborhood were the keys to a happy life. The world portrayed by artist Bob Byerley is not his alone—all of us are invited to disappear with him into the landscape of uninterrupted imagination, bucolic childhood memories, and dewy-eyed dreams.
Referred to as the "Painter of Our American Childhood" and the "Norman Rockwell of our time," favorably compared with Rembrandt and others Dutch Masters, and celebrated, highly collected, and much beloved by collectors of art everywhere, Byerley, is a realist oil painter of nostalgic Americana. Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1941, Byerley spent his entire childhood on the quiet, shady, tree lined streets and old brick sidewalks of K.C. The artist's photographic memory of his boyhood adventures combines with a talent honed by a lifetime of dedication to creating these charming, innocent portraits of a simpler time. He also brings his mastery of realistic still-life, rendering with microscopic detail the current style of his mature work. The effect of this fool-the-eye realism is so convincing that viewers are drawn in and taken hold of by irresistible urges to peel curling labels from old boxes, pull strings on marionettes, ride homemade scooters, or wipe the chocolate smears from a child's cheek. His technical mastery combined with an unlimited sense of fun transforms even first-time viewers into lifelong Byerley fans.
An only child, he was taught to play piano at the age of five by his mom, a piano teacher, performing his first one-man concert when he was six-years-old. Throughout his childhood, he continued his musical education. At the same time, he began showing a strong interest in art. His musical endeavors were enthusiastically encouraged, his drawing interests, not so much. After high school, Byerley decided to enter college, not as a music major, but as a pre-med student. He attended the University of Missouri at Columbia and, as fate would have it, in his junior year was required to take three credit hours of fine arts for his pre-med degree. He signed up for a three-hour "Introduction to Art" class. When he walked into the art building, saw the paintings and smelled the turpentine, he knew he was home. The rest is history. He loved the art so much that after one semester, he made the hardest phone call to his parents that he had ever make - "Mom, Dad, I've decided not to be a doctor. I'm going to be an artist." A proclamation that was met by interminable silence.
Byerley went on to receive his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Art from University of Missouri. After graduating, he taught painting and drawing at both the University and at a community college in St. Joseph, Missouri. This marked the beginning of his journey as a professional artist, taking him from abstract and politically charged statements to a long careful exploration of realistic still life, and finally to his forte—realistic, nostalgic depictions of his imaginative memories of his own bucolic childhood. By age thirty, Byerley stopped teaching to paint full time. His primary focus for many years was on still-life paintings rendered in a very detailed, trump l'oeil ("trick of eye") realistic style. In the late '80s, he began to focus on children in his work, capturing the souls of children and the hearts of millions with his terrifically imaginative, fastidiously detailed images of Americana. He is able to express the innocence and fresh-faced imagination of his subjects. His style, attention to detail, and endearing subject matter combine to create images so intriguing viewers can feel trouble coming by the twinkle of a young man's eye or can hear the laughter of a group of children playing on a warm summer day. Byerley is now internationally known for his realistic portrayals of children in nostalgic settings that reflect his own "kinder and gentler" childhood.
Educated in the Old Masters Tradition of painting, Byerley trumpets the concepts of strong compositional design and content in paintings. "Content," he explains, "has to do with the truths of life that we find around us. Truths can not be artificially staged, effected, conjured up, created, or invented to be sympathetic or trendy in a painting. They occur simply, spontaneously and without effort in the moments on canvas." His children are real, not fabricated or sentimental, and imagination abounds. In his hyperrealistic, detailed artworks he focuses on portraying children in nostalgic settings that evoke simpler times, as he paints children doing things rather than viewing things - his kids are alive with vitality and mischief. Viewers are invited to visit the "Old Neighborhood" and appreciate some of the most inspired creative work in realism being done in the art world today.
"Many of the ideas I express in my paintings," Byerley explains "came from my childhood before television. I grew up in the middle of the city in a house that was, strangely enough, surrounded by twenty blocks of dense woods. Each season, those woods were the magic place where our childhood imaginations ran totally free. We dug swimming pools that we ambitiously planned to open for next summer, we built the highest tree houses kids had ever built, we felled trees and filled rabbit holes in order to create five cent a turn bicycle obstacle courses, and we collected. We collected marvelous things. We collected castaway items from the dump that became elaborate scooters and push cars, forts, lemonade stands, airplanes, rafts, spook houses and miniature golf courses. I remember and love those times and that is what I choose to paint."
It was these memories that fuel his depictions of creative children that work together to build structures where they play and use their imaginations, all of which is integral to conveying a sense of timelessness. "In order for an artist to get his idea across or communicate with the viewer he must use universally recognized symbols in his paintings, symbols that all viewers can relate to and understand. Problems occur with some art, when the painter makes up symbols that he may understand but the viewer does not. This often occurs when the artist is working in an abstract or non-representational mode. It's much like a person trying to read a great novel, written in a foreign language that he does not understand. The material is there, but it is incomprehensible to the reader. My symbols are the realistic interpretations of children's faces, which are universal." Therein lie the reasons that Byerley's paintings have enjoyed worldwide acceptance and popularity. The smile of a child is understood around the world.
Byerley and his wife Alice, have four grown children and eight grandchildren. Alice is the brains of their opposition, both business manager and a very fine painter in her own right. They now live in Lee's Summit, Missouri. His work is represented in many fine collections and can be seen in thousands of galleries throughout the world.
An Artist Shares His Technique
Byerley generously shares his creative process, from sketching to boarding to drafting and then finally painting:
"When I get an idea for a painting, I start by doing a small thumbnail sketch. This rough sketch sets the idea in my mind. At this stage I often write myself notes on the sketch itself—for example - cast the primary light from the upper left or dress the subjects in 20s fashions. I then proceed to enhance and modify this basic idea with more detailed sketches. When I am satisfied with the sketches, I begin preparing my board. I paint on board, rather that canvas, for several reasons. When I use a board, I don't have to worry about humidity causing the canvas to shrink, buckle, or get floppy loose in its stretchers. The texture of the weave of the canvas itself is usually to rough for me to render my small intricate details. I also prefer the rigidity of the board to the soft give of canvas. The board I use is Medite, a very high quality hardboard. I cut four foot by eight-foot sheets into 4 X 4, 3 X 4 or 2 X 4 sizes. Using an electric hand sander and 100 grit sandpaper I carefully sand the sheen off the surface of the Medite and vacuum the surface to remove the dust. I then wipe the surface down with a clean damp cloth to eliminate any remaining dust—I then use a house-painting roller to give the board two coats of Liquitex Gesso. This is the paintings ground. I roll the boards back and forth, up, and down until I reach a smooth surface with no roller marks."
"Using a 4H drawing pencil I carefully draw my idea onto the board. When the drawing is completed, I paint a thin wash over the board. This tints the surface and sets the graphite of the pencil so that the pencil marks wont bleed or smudge into the paint. For this transparent wash, I use Burnt Umber and Permanent Green Deep oil paint mixed with pure gum turpentine. I apply the wash over the entire surface of the board with a large soft brush. After the wash dries (usually overnight) I begin my under painting directly over the sketch. This is like rendering the entire painting in black and white in order to establish my darks and lights. When creating the under painting, I use Burnt Umber, Pthalo Blue and once again pure gum turpentine. At this stage, my oil painting resembles a black and white watercolor. When the final painting is dry, I brush its surface with Retouch varnish to restore the sheen and depth of the oil paint, which has gone matte in some of the darker areas."
World Wide Art
World Wide Art is known for its wide selection of limited edition prints by renowned artists, including the luminescent works of Bob Byerley. Their expert staff also specializes in custom conservation framing. In business since 1996, World Wide Art is located in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a well-known art shop for both serious collectors and casual decorators. The staff at World Wide Art not only deals art, but are collectors and artists themselves who consider their work a labor of love and lifestyle of art appreciation.