Gerald Dwight Byron
Anyone familiar with the spectacular scenery of Gaspé, Quebec, the rugged terrain between the Laurentians and eastern townships or the magnificent landscapes in the Ottawa region will instantly recognize Gerald Byron's realistic depictions of them in his paintings.
Born in 1914 and raised in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, most of his childhood memories are to be seen portrayed in his art masterpieces. Before his sudden and untimely death on September 11th, 1961, Gerald, while gazing into his own creations, would fondly reminisce about his artistic beginnings as a youngster.
Gerald Byron began his life-long love affair with oil painting at age fourteen when he enrolled in his first art classes at Mont St. Louis High School. In 1932, at age eighteen, he began four years of art studies at Loyola College. He then transferred to the University of British Columbia for another four years, graduating with a degree in architecture. In 1939, at age twenty-four, he moved to New York City and immersed himself in further art studies there for another two years. As World War II was raging in Europe, Gerald moved to Ottawa where he was employed by the Canadian government between the years 1941-1943. His artistic independence soon clashed with the stifling governmental bureaucratic atmosphere in Ottawa and Gerald tried his hand at entrepreneurship. It was here that local architects and developers soon recognized his masterly use of depth and unique perspective along with his uncompromising attention to detail. Although modestly successful, Gerald decided architecture was not the career for him and after discussing their options with his wife (Françoise), they moved to Montreal where he took up painting full time.
His style is defined by realism. Realism, he said, had a calming effect upon him, "probably because it has been around for so long and being that we live in a world of such uncertainty and constant change." While other artists confine themselves to a specific type of landscape, his style allowed him to paint the subjects of his choice. He took time to study the important visual elements as they pertained to his subject matter. Gerald stated, "I tried to depict whatever is present and observed, and use my abilities to make the viewer interpret exactly what I see." What he loved most about painting was the process, which involves a constant dynamic of searching and learning. The paintings created by Gerald all tend to express his ideas, emotions and moods. It is this emotional connection between the artist and the viewer that he strived to achieve.
The last three to four years of the Byron's life together was strenuous to say the least. Financially they were drained. The electricity to their cottage was disconnected. Provisions were continuously in need. Any remaining funds were designated towards the purchase of art supplies. Although ludicrous, Gerald refused to dispose of any of his paintings till the official opening of his art gallery. He estimated at the time to be within a month.
With all the discouraging moments in their lives, Françoise was astonished at her husband's energy to paint. The quality of his art remained of high caliber. On any given night in despair they walked four miles to a convenience store to fulfill their nourishment needs. Chocolate bars were the only item on the menu. One night upon their return devastation loomed ahead in the darkness. Their future art gallery and home were engulfed in flames. His reaction was swift and immediate. Gerald raced towards the cottage and without thought for his own personal safety, rushed into the inferno placing his life in jeopardy. His intent was to try and salvage what art remained undamaged. He came within seconds of sealing his fate. At the last moment when his life hung in the balance, he felt what he truly believed was a hand from above guide him out of the flames. He acknowledged he could never have done it alone.
All told, of approximately 110 pieces, only nine survived. A life time of painting was destroyed in minutes but that was not the end of his misery. He had sustained severe burns over 70% of his arms. Both observed in disbelief as their dream was consumed in flames. Françoise questioned how this could have happened, tears running down their faces as she collapsed in his arms, shaking with grief.