George deLyra was born in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil in 1929. He moved with his family, at the age of ten – three years after the death of his father – to New Rochelle, NY. According to an artist’s statement/bio he wrote in 1998 (a year before his death), he remembered that at age 12 “my brother and I took Saturday lessons . . . . From that time on, I have drawn, painted, and occasionally made prints.” He began summering in Maine as a youth and moved here permanently in 1952 to attend Bowdoin College in Brunswick, from which he transferred to the Portland School of Art (now the Maine College of Art) because he wanted to become a painter. His teachers at PSA included painters/printmakers James Elliott and Laurence Sisson. George deLyra graduated from the Portland School of Art in 1956. To support himself after graduating, he took on portrait commissions and commercial design projects while continuing to paint, and began exhibiting locally, regionally, and nationally. In 1965, he began teaching at the Portland School of Art and eventually became the school’s assistant director.
He showed throughout the Northeast over the years and his last solo exhibition in Maine took place at the Frost Gully Gallery in 1980. The pictured piece, Shopper, is representative of the type of painting for which deLyra is best-known: an isolated individual, here in an undefined, almost claustrophobic space, is either acting or thinking about acting, with no other humans present to interact with. As Maine’s dean of art writing, Philip Isaacson, stated in a 1980 review in the Maine Sunday Telegram, “. . . deLyra was a narrator. He told stories, and he told them in simple visual terms. His theme was the aloneness of humanity.”
Social commentary aside, the painting gains strength as a painterly composition through the use of rectangles within rectangles to create the constricted space our antagonist occupies. The artist provides a cultural context as well, represented here by the modern architecture from which, spatially and philosophically, she is so estranged.
A limited yet colorful palette, along with distinctive and assertive brushwork, are hallmarks of George deLyra’s paintings; these qualities are well represented in this compelling work. He was a noted colorist during his career, a painter who made us think about the world we live in.
Aside from many private collections, deLyra’s work can be found in the collections of Amherst College, the Portland Museum of Art, the University of Maine, the University of New England, the State of Maine, Unum/Provident, and others. Some works found their way during his lifetime to Canada, Brazil, and Switzerland, according to notes found in the artist files of the Portland Museum of Art, September 2008.
-- Weston LaFountain, Independent Curator