Commentary by James Sivard
This website is dedicated to providing information about Robert Sivard's paintings and prints. I feel proud to be able to share these rare and expressive images created by my father. I also want to fill in the gaps in the information previously available about his life and career.
This documentary effort, which I began in 1995, has been a rigorous and enlightening journey. No archiving of his work had been done, which is suprising since one of his close relatives is an art historian. The orignal paintings are scattered around the world in various private collections; it's difficult to obtain permission to photograph these works. I welcome any comments or additional information about Robert Sivard. Please contact us or telephone me at 703-777-4352 (United States).
My mother, Ruth Sivard, generously allowed me access to press clippings, photos and Bob's own comments. Most of the images in the Gallery are from his own documentation of his work. The first thing that struck me as I organized the material was Bob's stylistic consistency over the decades. The wit, the narrative style, the evocative but gentle color combinations, the expressive details: these are qualities present throughout his career. His technique grew stronger, however, and while his first critics termed his style "naive", a later one classified him as a "photo realist"!
I came across works which dated from my early childhood in Paris, and many that I had not seen before. This was exciting for me since I also paint, thanks to my father's encouragement. But I must say that my research initially caused me some grief; I had never before realized the scope of my father's talent, and I regret that I didn't offer him more encouragement -and seek his guidance- during our times together.
Most of the images exhibited here have been unavailable to the public for decades. The paintings which my mother still owns invariably elicit enthusiastic praise and, from Europeans, a strong feeling of nostalgia. "This is the way it was!", Parisians have commented.
Robert Sivard's own father, Peter Civardi, was a skilled mason who owned a business dedicated to restoration work; this may explain Bob's penchant for painting architectural facades and historical details. He was also interested in carpentry and electrical engineering, skills which he used in his professional work of designing exhibits and in which he tutored me.
Bob would enthusiastically offer me help in my own artistic endeavors. I vividly remember a lesson in perspective for an elementary school assignment (at 'Beauvoir' summer school):
He started by drawing a horizontal line, 'the horizon', then a dot, 'the vanishing point'. All objects, a house in his example, grew smaller towards this point. My work had great depth for a few months after this consultation.
Another lesson was a demonstration of how he rubbed graphite into the dried brush strokes to simulate the look of an ancient stone wall, for instance. As a result of his commercial art training (1935-38) he could mimic any surface with his brush techniques. He once painted an oriental rug on the floor of his hallway and fooled many visitors. In his fine art he delighted in reproducing the torn and yellowed signs, ancient cracked walls and hand-decorated windows of old Parisian shops; this was his method of creating an atmosphere of charm and antiquity.
As I grew older we often spoke of the current trends in art; he appreciated elements of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, for instance, but retained his own aesthetic and style throughout his life. He had the ability to turn on his creativity at will and never suffered from lack of inspiration. A walk around the neighborhood with his camera was sufficient to provide him with material for his next project.
He enjoyed painting on location but most of his more detailed work contained elements carefully assembled from a variety of sources, most often from his own photographs and slides. He was not averse to asking a family member to pose for a sketch or photo to be later used as material for a painting; he never used professional models.
Bob had a strong interest in calligraphy; in many paintings there are reproductions of posters and hand-lettered signs, large and small, often including witticisms. One of my favorites is the small, apologetic note taped to the glass window of a Parisian restaurant in A la Locomotive:
"Alas, we do not speak English, but we have many friends who do. Enter, and enjoy a good meal. (signed) JoJo."