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Bernard Gilardi: Four Decades

October 15 - January 8, 2011

Bernard Gilardi (1920-2008) worked as a lithographer for a printing company and lived in a small house on Milwaukee’s near North side. Having always been interested in art, he started painting in the late 1950s. He continued to make oil paintings throughout his life in his basement studio. By the time he died in 2008, at the age of 88, he had completed about 400 paintings. Portrait Society will present two bodies of work as well as a catalog to introduce Bernard Gilardi’s legacy to the public.

Gallery A will feature an assortment of figurative paintings in a style of Mr. Gilardi’s own invention, but loosely fitting in with a historic Midwestern tendency toward “magic realism” or Surrealism (Karl Priebe, John Wilde and more recently Dennis Nechvatal and Fred Stonehouse). Although Mr. Gilardi was interested in attending art shows and reading about artists, he did not show or sell his own paintings. After serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II, he took at least one art class at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee, but his formal art education seemed to end there. Nevertheless, Gilardi’s work shows great sophistication in his ability to render complex scenes, paint different textures convincingly, and orchestrate color.

Gallery B will present a suite of large scale (26 x 30 inches) oil on panel portraits of Abraham Lincoln done between 1973 and 1976. Mr. Gilardi’s fascination with Lincoln at this time coincides with the aftermath of the civil rights movement of the mid to late 1960s. Coincidentally, Father Groppi, a local civil rights activist, lived up the block from the Gilardis on N. 41st Street beginning in the early 1980s. The Lincoln paintings also came at a time when our presidential leadership under Richard Nixon erupted in scandal, which led to his resignation (1974) and the 1976 election with Ford and Carter as running mates. Leadership, integrity and doubt were surely on the mind’s of many people at this time.


Bernard Gilardi’s work is like a time capsule, pulling from the stylistic tendencies of the decades in which he worked, yet always infused with his own gentle humor and creative vision. It is extremely rare that such an accomplished body of work is created in isolation and survives intact.

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