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Nature is Transformed in the Paintings of L. Byrne

Iris, Paintings, 54 x 54

Contrary to the belief of strict formalists who would prefer to see it as a function of dispassionate aesthetic gamesmanship, abstract painting had its origins in mystery. For it was born when European modernist masters such as Kandinsky, and  Malevich, influenced by Theosophy and other esoteric belief systems prevalent at the turn of the century, sought to probe beyond the world of outer appearances and evolve a visual language for the unseen. It remains true today that the most authentic way to approach the abstract is not through imitation of these early artistic pioneers but through the ineffable mysteries of life, one of the most deeply affecting of which is personal tragedy.

    Such was the case for the painter L. Byrne, who was moved a decade ago by a profound family trauma to abandon her early figurative style for an abstract mode of expression more suited to exploring new emotions. Born to Irish immigrant parents she has always felt ties to the heritage of that country where beauty and tragedy are inexorably bound. And raised amid the grandeur of the Canadian wilderness, she was inspired by nature’s ability to renew itself.  She wished not merely to capture the lay of the land, but to apprehend, in the immortal words of Dylan Thomas, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”

    Thus in paintings such as her “Iris” and “Fuschia l” it is not so much the forms of the individual flowers that we see but an effusion of gestural strokes of luscious red, pink, scarlet and ochre pigment  suggesting their earthy essences.  

    Byrne’s large oils on canvas are invariably filled with light, color, and a sense of wonder. While her bold brushstrokes and the expansive scale of her paintings can prompt comparisons to abstract expressionism, they have also been called “abstract impressionist,” a term that may be even more apt, considering their coloristic radiance.

    The canvas she calls “Field of Grass,” for example, features a lyrical explosion of verdant vertical strokes set against an expanse of luminous sky. The composition is exquisitely simple, but with these two elements alone, Byrne arguably provides a more accurate, not to mention more lyrical, vision of grass and sky on a warm summer day than most more literal depictions of such a subject could provide. For one  feels the heat and can almost smell the  chlorophyll-filled freshness of the turf with the immediacy of an indelible childhood memory.

    Indeed, such reveries play an essential role in Byrne’s work. “The memories of my youth were populated by the nature and wilderness surroundings of Canada,” she recalls. “Long canoe trips and lingering campfires decorated by the Northern Lights are still vividly etched in my creative spirit. The environment and the outdoors have influenced the colors selected for my paintings along with the rugged texture found in most of them.”

    The spacious majesty and ruggedness of the landscape is everywhere evident, in “Oceanscape,” with its sense of a vast horizon and the Northern Lights suggested abstractly in the patchy strokes of brilliant color enlivening the expanse of blue above; in the pile-up of thick earth colors contrasted with visceral reds and purples in “Mud Slide”; and in “Flower Power ll,” with its vibrantly rioting floral forms in thickly encrusted primary hues.

    In these, among other sumptuous oils on canvas, L. Byrne probes deep below the lay of the land to the very wellsprings of nature.                                                                                                  –– Wilson Wong

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