|The Troll King's Daughter. Artist: William Girard.|
So what would you call a really, sweet, personable guy who devoted most of his life and all of his adult life, to playing with mud? A guy would tell you to your face - with great conviction - that the design and color of mud really, really mattered?
Me? I called William Girard, aka Bill – former professor of art at the Center for Creative Studies in downtown Detroit (now the College of Creative Studies) and fine artist – my dearest friend, aside from my wife. I called him my mentor. I referred to him as my “other” 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 “professor.” Then “Bill.” Then, as I came to know his work better, I told others he was “amazing.” For a long time I referred to Bill as a minor master. (That was when I was young and stupid.)
Now that it’s too late, I know better. Bill Girard wasn’t a minor master at all. He was one of Detroit’s Living National Treasures. As far as I’m concerned, he was one of America’s Living National Treasures.
|Triptych Central Panel. Detail. Artist: William Girard|
Allen Abramson, Bill’s friend, patron, dealer, obsessive collector and life-long irritant, once 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-fallutin’ 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.
Anyway, the nice couple told him that they really didn’t 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 that the New York art scene just wasn’t for him.
There were always people who wanted what he made. The aforementioned Allen left of collection of hundreds of pieces. Many quite marvelous. He lied, cajoled and argued to get his hands on pieces Bill promised to others. It seems sort of funny now. It wasn’t so funny then.
So, with no real need to show in galleries, and a local critical aristocracy more attuned to the fashion of art than the great throbbing power it could deliver, Girard sort of vanished. Actually, he just never showed up to begin with.
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 didn’t need them. His visual memory was darn near perfect. (He had perfect pitch, too.)
The up-side of all this is that young 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.
|Detail: Advocates. Artist: William Girard|
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 genuine 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.
No question, Bill was a “flawed vessel.” All of us are. Chipped here. Cracked there. Off kilter, maybe. A little lopsided. But what made the vessel called Bill Girard, born in the home of mass-production, so extraordinarily special was the intoxicating spirit that filled it to the brim.
Robert Henri called it “the art spirit.”
In Bill’s 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 – most Detroiters – who claimed some expertise as connoisseurs never noticed it, even when it stood right before their eyes.
Since Bill hated to travel and spent his entire working life in metro Detroit, it stood before their eyes over more than 50 years of professional activity.
|Lord of the Rings White Queen Chess Piece. Bronze Artist: William Girard|
|Lord of the Rings White King Chess Piece. Artist: William Girard|
I’m an unrepentant art addict. So I've stood in awe in many art museums. The little Titian in St. Louis is stupendous. The really small Giorgione in San Diego is stunning. I can’t tell you how much I love Pontormo’s murals in Santa Felicta. And Freud. And Kollwitz.
But I’m from a gritty, stinky, dirty, ugly and screwed up metropolis with a funky beauty all its own. Detroit.
As I see it, that metropolis gave birth and sheltered one of the finest artists I’ve had the good fortune to know. The problem is that Detroit doesn’t know it.
God’s honor, Girard’s work is the most extraordinarily addictive stuff I have ever encountered.
As is obvious, I never recovered.
And I promise you, I’m not alone in this.
Until you’ve viewed a comprehensive collection of the work of William Girard first-hand, paintings, sculpture and drawing, large and small, you simply can’t imagine how dazzlingly imaginative, how very, very special, Girard really was. And the truth is, very, very people have had that opportunity.
|Jesus. Disposition Unknown. Artist: William Girard|
The best I can offer is this unprofessional website with a collection Girard artwork:
The vessel called Bill Girard is gone. But I'm still tipsy. Bill's powerful and infectious spirit gives me joy every day. Based on the emails I receive from folks who have discovered Bill Girard for themselves, I suspect it will retain its singular power for as long as beauty, craftsmanship, wit and artistic courage are cherished.
|Photo of Bill Girard, Circa 1981 by Glenn Michaels|
|Sketch Book Image: Artist: William Girard|
* Most images courtesy of Ken Weikal, Farmington Hills, Michigan