BROKEN _ performance pic by – Kevin Ohanlon


The word disabled means that normal abilities have been taken away for whatever reason but it also implies that you have no ability. I do not feel disabled. In my 35 year long career I have never addressed “disability” in my art (even with the interminable morbid fascination of virtually every arts writer & journalist who writes about me). Here, in BROKEN I have made an exception.

Origin and Etymology of dis- from Latin dis-, literally, apart
Origin and Etymology of dis short for disrespect, First Known Use: 1980
dis as a prefix : opposite or absence of : not
dis as a verb slang : to treat (someone) with disrespect : to be rude to (someone)
dis as a noun slang : a disparaging remark or act : to criticize (something) in a way that shows disrespect, to treat with disrespect or contempt : insult

I know what is meant (in the best sense) by being categorized ‘disabled’. Running, dancing, walking, talking clearly are abilities that have slowly evaporated from my experience. Fantastic as these empowering attributes are, they are not the be all & end all. People have disabilities, I have disabilities but calling someone disabled is another thing.

Disabled as a naming word is misleading & demeaning, in & of itself discriminatory. Disabled as a medical term should be etymologically correct not flatly meaning life apart from ability. 

I believe in a neurologically diverse humanity – there are many ways to experience life. Typical physical ability is just that. There is no master code. I do not care to be searching for a cure to have normal abilities. I do not aspire to be typical. 

A term to categorize a whole community of people that is inaccurate is also unethical. One can excel, or one can cower no matter what your physical circumstance. Look at my work not my legs!

In “BROKEN” I choose broken, old wood & follow it becoming art, as an analogy for how deceptive our eyes can be & dismissive we can become when convinced that perfection does not incorporate disorder.


 A performance based video – Theresa Byrnes
Premiered at Georgetown University, Wash DC, USA, April 2018


I am broken old wood
disregarded, on a pile
brought into focus by an artist eye
touched with a carless splatter of life
time, nature make art, make air
without pomp or price

etching beauty from the grave
forgotten doesnt matter
and yet it grows so sweet
the chance, the impulse straddled.

TBG 616 East 9th Street NYC
”BROKEN” performance paintings & recent works on exhibition thru May 2018

HOURS-when I am there or by appointment |

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“gambette” Love?

gambette – Geraldine Anton & Theresa Byrnes a collaboration.

Geraldine flew from Australia to do an art-residency with me in January 2016. Helping me with my baby at night, working in my studio and collaborating with me on new work during the day – we fast became friends and decided to respond to the appoaching Valentine’s day.

What is love? What is friendship? I should know by now. But I feel more and more that love is for survivors or is granted to those we think will. The fickle moments of connection land in my life often & than flutter away. Believing more in “flutter than forever” makes me unsure if I understand love or if it can be understood. My physical vulnerability leaves me open to contact that is like a dance of will. “gambette” is me grappling to represent what I feel to be the essence of love & friendship, shared support & play & shared convulsive, unpedictale joy. Both are bound to the moment and not expected.

The exhibition, “gambette” opens tonight on my birthday! Come celebrate.
Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 8.24.40 PM


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MUDBIRD – Closing Party!




feather knot ink on paper 19.5x42 2015 4750
My last blog was over two years ago. It was about my maternal love for a fledgling sparrow. We adopted each other, I became mama-bird, he was gaining strength but after a month he suddenly died. I wrote about how our connection informed my (then current) series SPARROW HEART. I was pregnant but did not know it. I named my son Sparrow, now he is a toddler.

MUDBIRD (a return to the beginning) is about my little Sparrow rising from the mud, being born and making his first marks – equally it is about my continuance as a producing artist through the demands & delights of motherhhood & through the threat & trauma of my own mortality.

I am a abstraction addict. I realized this when I decided to focus exclusively on painting portraits until late 2017. Setting aside abstract painting for a while feels like abstinence. My abstract painting sprung from the backgrounds of my portraits. I became more interested in painting the background & the subject faded in importance until it was gone.

As I get older life gets richly complicated. The figure re-appears – back to my portrait painting roots. I hold the gaze with struggle not escaping in the natural perfection of abstraction.

Sparrows biological father is dying.The complexity and depth of my sorrow I can not explain but when I paint a portrait of us it comes clear for a moment.

MUDBIRD a return to the beginning

UNTIL jan 16
tues thurs sat 1-6

Friday 15 JAN, 6-8pm

TBG – 616 east 9th Street NYC

in show

BEING 2 – paintings – TB
PERFORMANCE video —Christopher Lynch

MUDBIRD – paintings/performance ephemera – TB
PERFORMANCE video – Kevin O’Hanlon
Stills by Rainer Hosch

NEW PORTRAITS – Theresa Byrnes

3D photography – Bobby Bennett & M. Henry Jones

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SPARROW HEART – This series of paintings is not based on epic or political themes, so nothing grandiose. This exhibition is small and frail, sweet and personal. My heart, my understanding of life and love expanded a million miles after my first encounter with a fallen baby sparrow.

In the summer of 2006 a sparrow fell from its nest and into my heart. Its tinyness in my hand, I felt the ferocity of its spirit and was immediately and profoundly changed. Nothing I had ever encountered in my life, romantic love, disability, financial struggle had ever taken my focus away from painting, but the love and kinship I felt for this tiny bird did.

After three days being mama bird, feeding it water by an eye-dropper and baby food by my fingertip, it died in my hand. His chirping stopped, his forever hungry and thirsty beak closed and his feisty little eyeballs stopped glittering.

I didn’t get out of bed for 3 days and for a month I could not look at anyone deeply in the eyes without crying.

In 2008 a friend brought me a sick and dehydrated sparrow. I fed it water by eye-dropper and baby-food by my finger tip until it was well enough to fly away. It did.

In 2009 I found a sparrow that had crashed into a window and was paralyzed. I cared for it for a day and night before he died and I buried him in my planter, tearful but grateful that it spent its last hours with me.

I was becoming increasingly aware that true love, sparrow love could not be possessed either in death or in life.

In the summer of 2012 I adopted into my care a lost and confused baby sparrow. It was barely 2 weeks old and too young to fly. He found sanctuary in my sunny green house. He got stronger and I knew one day he would fly away. I named him Fluffy Angel. Fluffy Angel hopped on my head, shoulders, back and up and down my arms. He loved peanut butter, wild millet and hiding in the cat-nip outpouring my planter box. He was the last thing I thought of before I went to sleep and I would bounce out of bed to play with him in the morning.

My collection of miniature ornaments was a playroom for him, a pewter ballerina my mom mailed me one birthday, a plastic black stallion Peter Downes from the Brooklyn museum had given me, a steel three legged elephant and its calf I had bought from a flee market, a plastic orange dinosaur I had found on 9th Street and a rock of red ochre I had brought all the way from Yirrkala, Arhnem land, Australia. He would hop on each of the toys as though it was a ride. My Yolongu mother had given me the ochre to grind and paint with but now it was Fluffy Angel’s poop rock.

His favorite toy was a simple plastic cup, the one you throw away after a party. He would nudge the cup with his beak until it rolled away and then he would hop after it and than nudge it again. I would gleefully watch him at play for hours intermittingly feeding him peanut butter or fresh baby cereal from my fingertip.

Almost a month had past and he was beginning to find his wings. He could now flutter clumsily from my shoulder to my thigh.

I woke one morning in a panic. I rolled into to my green house, no tweets, no hopping about. My life hadn’t seemed this still for ages. I couldn’t sense him. I searched madly. Hysteria building and then I found his tiny stiff body. His eyes appeared animated for a minute but on closer, hopeful inspection I saw it was ants moving over his eyes. I had to leg go. I buried him howling in grief.

Sparrow love is the greatest love I have known.

The paintings in this series I use both my hair and feathers. My hair is used as in a brush for painting; my human plumage. The feather is a quill for the writing of words and is the plumage of birds. In these paintings I marry the human and the bird, the painter and the writer, for I am both.

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My Hero – Robert Hughes – A Memorial

I have had a massive crush on Robert Hughes for most of my life. Reading Shock of the New when I was thirteen set in stone that I was an artist. Now that he has passed my crush on him has not eased off but rather intensified.

I never met him. In the first year I moved to New York I mailed him a letter & a copy of my book THE DIVINE MISTAKE. Maybe it never got to him, maybe he threw it out. I do not know. The small reach to him was big for me as my focus is always on the bones of my painting becoming fleshed.

But in reading his work, crying with his words that lashed my heart with the brutal truth – history, ours “A Fatal Shore” – telling the cold hard facts like poetry – honey & the sting, I felt him, me, us our heritage, nothing blushed over. At Robert Hughes’ heart was the courage of a true artist or rather when there is no fear there is no need for courage. “Art is a lie that tells the truth”, writes Picasso. Writing history is the truth that blows out your heart and switches on your spirit.

For many Aussies it was far easier to ditz this great man as un-Australian or on a high-horse, the fact was he was far above our piddling notions of freedom, that progress treadmill most of us are caught on.

New York has a quality; it allows you to be who you are without owning you.

Now he is gone I feel we can finally meet.

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Life gets in the way of writing about my life.

Clearing, sorting, checking off chores, bills, exhibitions, done, done & done. No more performances for the year & no painting. I have sold enough of my paintings to grant myself 6 months of writing. I must hit it hard, be mega focused & finish this manuscript, my second book now, half-way written.

It has been two years since two huge publishers said they must wait for my completed manuscript before they sign me. It has run through my head – so what of my life, who really cares? All I want to do is paint, that is what my life is all about, what brought me to New York & to this point. I applied for a literature grant twice, declined, declined – regardless I still have a niggle to finish this second autobiography.

I asked my long time East Village friend Lata Kennedy why I should finish writing my book. I went to her wedding a decade ago, my then priest boyfriend conducted the ceremony. Crying she exclaimed, “You have to finish!”
I asked, “Why”
She said, “Cause you live life with no excuses, fearless you make your work, blow us away & then onto new project to surprise us again. You have to write it cause we need it Theresa, your strength, your example.”

As if that was not encouragement enough I asked another friend who was visiting New York from Australia. Henry Everingham used to be a journalist for Sydney Morning Herald. He helped me rescue a chapter from a corrupted disk that I had written for my first book THE DIVINE MISTAKE. I asked Henry, “ Give me good reason why I should finish this book.”
He replied, “Cause you can. You are a bloody good artist and you can write. You have to finish it. You may think your life is relatively normal well it isn’t it is extraordinary. Most people do not leave the country they were born in, family that they know & lifestyle they are comfortable with, you are in New York surviving, thriving as an artist. Theresa there is no question it is your obligation.

From July 1 until January 1 2013 I am writing full time – over & out.

To contribute to my writing project (tax deductable donation) GO TO :

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The actual performance – Tender

A performance by Theresa Byrnes
June 2012

I was exhausted just before I was to perform. I just didn’t feel up to it. The month of organizing & instructing culminating in four hours of manically preparing the space, projection, soundtrack, lighting, fan to blow my costume, floor covered with leaves and finishing painting black the 9 ft scales.

I had jokingly said to Sean Naftal who built the giant scales for me that I couldn’t wait to try it on. As though the huge apparatus was like a pair of shoes.

Well I would be standing in it. Being wheelchair mobile, to stand isn’t my natural state. I can stand with the right support but I was a little worried, my back had spasmed the day before and I knew that if my toes curled or my feet twisted while standing the pain would be insufferable and I would have to end the performance.

Antony Zito, Simeon Rose, Irene Karpatharkis, Amy Sanchez & I decided my exit –alert code would be 5 blinks.

Sean had warned me that in crucifixion one actually suffocates so my out-stretched arms had to be loosely strung up. I thought going in that I may die, but what better way to go than standing up for what you believe in and saying it in your own way.

Putting on my 9ft gown and laying on the plank – I was slipping into immortal skin, a giant authority, justice, law that is every individual.

My friends (the crew) who have known me for years and have by now worked on many of my projects gulp; I feel their concern as Simeon & Zito raise me bound to the plank & while they screw it in place. I stand 10 ft. tall. The spotlight in my face is too bright & hot, constrained & towering I shriek for them to turn it off. They do & then Andrzej Liguz yells out, “we love you Theresa.”

The audience enters. Amy, adept #1 (leaf girl) places an hourglass at my feet – performance commences. Kristiina Salaka, adept #2 (money girl) places cash on the left scale tray and Amy places leaves on the right. My outspread arms control the weighing arm; my body is the fulcrum.

Amy at various moments gave the audience leaves & Kristiina gave cash-play-money to put into the scales. This was the first time I have invited audience participation in my performance. I was electrified by how clearly people “got it” and how emotional & poetic their contributions were.

At first people put leaves with leaves & money with money but then they started putting money on leaves, I thought it was by mistake at first but then I came to realize that people were making statements of their own: it was their performance too.

A woman burst through the crowd and grabbed all the cash money off the tray and put on the leaf pile & stomped off; her fury was palpable. The performance regained rhythm one to one, leaf to leaf, money to money but then a man calmly straightened, counted 5 or so bills on the tray, folded them and put then in his pocket, normal rhythm resumed, than a woman dumped a huge armful of leaves on the leaf side. Close to the end of the performance a man picked up some cash, gently folded it & slipped it under the hourglass.

To guide the scale arm from left to right needed muscle. Being justice, controlling the balance, was an athletic job. I had expected it to be more graceful but I found myself grunting & my feet begun to ache.

The last sand in the hourglass fell. Amy & Kristiina retreated to the wall and after applause Irene ushered the audience out.

Simeon & Zito unscrewed the plank laying it across 2 chairs to unbind me. Irene unclipped my feet from the ankle braces. I laid down amongst the leaves to rest and re-centre. A man came up and after congratulating me said that if the performance went on much longer people would have broken out into fights as everyone felt that invested.

I had been exhausted and dreading the entire ordeal moments before lift off and now I felt energized and relived. There is nothing like going way beyond yourself and coming back again. Irene said I had a post coital glow.

Kevin O’hanlon & Irene slipped me out of my costume & back into regular clothes.

We did it again! Deeply euphoric that the performance happened without a hitch & equally with my amazing team of talented friends new & old who got sucked into my whirlwind reminding me of the nature of true love & wealth.

Amy Sanchez – Chief assistant & headdress maker
Sean Naftel – construction
Hong Yu – costume
Warren Riznychok – leaf stamper & coffee boy
Ronnie Guzman, Stephanie Howard, Daniella Mamon & Dominick Castiglia – leaf gatherers & sorters
Bobbi Bennett, Video & web support
Simeon Rose, AV & venue prep
Irene Karpathakis, stage manager
Antony Zito – Chief lifter & binder
Kevin O’Hanlon & Jonathan Goldman – filmmakers
Ed Marshall & Andrzej Liguz photography
Kristiina Salaka – money-girl

Special thanks to my L.E.S community who brought me leaves, to Merf Bill for supplying the lumber, to Brian Tate for spearheading the event, to Anne for sourcing an hourglass for me the day of show & to The Hourglass Tavern for loaning it & to The Queens Council On The Arts for their guts, vision & respect.

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A performance by Theresa Byrnes
Friday June 15 2012
Performance – 7.30 – 8.30 p.m.

So here I go again, another performance, another time for making an event appear out of deep thought and decisive action.

My new volunteer/assistant Amy Sanchez appeared, my friend Riz Rich and neighbours helped me collect items needed for the installation, the construction site next door donated the wood for the performance structure. I met a young fashion student on the Street, HONG YU, and we collaborated on the costume.

As an artist belief in an idea and respect and faith in my work becomes Tender. People assist me to fulfil artistic projects NOT FOR legal tender (money) but for creative tender, establishing an economy of respect to achieve intellectual progress and community.

“TENDER” a performance about money and the economy.

We see cash as cold and hard and inhuman, but it is the product of our primary human quality to balance, weigh and value and then to share, trade and sell.

Our INTRINSIC IMPULSE TO BUY & SELL brings people, communities and civilizations together and is central to the human experience.

People place money and the economy as a force unto itself and often as the enemy. But the only reason the dollar is accepted it is because we accept it.

The primary human dichotomy is that of debtor and creditor. The scale of justice is our own body. Primordial debt can be cleared by complete respect and tender care for the earth, the only true wealth.

Queens Art Express Festival
Currency Gallery @ SUPERNOVA
26-19 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City
Friday June 15
Performance – 8.00 – 9.00 p.m.
Exhibition & installation 6 – 9 p.m. |

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“>Painting is about letting go & about choosing what to hold on to. Art history is what emerges through the ravages of time & survives through the ravages of critical authority.

“The World” & “The Planet” have two entirely different connotations. The World is primarily about human progression (anthropology); the planet is concerned with primordial cycles, nature.

As a human, an artist / mark-maker I wrestle between the two – I am of the world and of planet.

Painting is making millions of aesthetic choices without fear or hesitation. Unlike sculpture or installation painting takes up little space. I had planned only to use the 30ft roll-way on arches watercolor paper as a final product, a performance painting but I held onto the entire performance installation for three months. It struck a chord as to who I was between the world & the planet; giving birth & being given birth to.

It divided my studio & it halted my making new work. Over the weeks and months the mud dried. The hand ropes strung from the ceiling to help me pull myself along became like umbilical cords. And as the mud dried in the pits it became like the surface of the planet.

Two days ago I broke the mud pits up. Too heavy to keep as one Simeon loaded the dried mud into buckets & was astonished by how heavy it was. It was no surprise to me, when Derek & I drove the topsoil into Manhattan from Montauk it weighted his van down by 3 inches. This stuff is what constitutes the planet and the planet is WAY-heavy; this is stardust.

Being a professional artist since the age of 17 I rarely regret destructive choices in my process. I learnt very early as a painter – if you include all color you get mud. Being clear, creating new beauty is about using a limited palette & knowing when to stop. Making art is a very Zen practice.

The day after I recycled the dirt I was overcome with artistic regret. I erased a mark that was important & beautiful. But it took up space and was heavy. I justified – It was not a sculpture it was an experience, a performance.

Is naming something “Art” an attempt at making human existence permanent? Being a successful artist is not being attached to technique or a particular work but using that knowledge as a stepping-stone to new ways of working not an end.

“The mess and filth we clean and control is in actual fact stardust. The Earth is the compacted dust of thousands of exploding stars. From dirt we came and to dirt we shall return and in between is life. We are custodians of the most magical substance – dirt, nothing more and nothing less – it is a grand job.” TB

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In an instant one can reprogram experience & psyche by feeling the humanity behind the mark.

Painting, mark making, is a balanced combination of the scientific & the esoteric. Beyond intuitive it strips me to my primordial core. As an artist I use this to explore environmental – anthropological (eco-feminist) ideas.

I am interested in why & how we are here as a life force. Understanding the nature of life is within our individual selves. Our hair has our genetic code. Our skin, our organs all have cellular memory and are linked to the beginning of life on earth. I am fascinated to posses my body & I am fascinated by my ability as a painter to enter a visual mark and be emotionally and intellectually catapulted by it.

Making paintings is for me the ultimate form of contemplation, it is an experiment whose solution culminates in a painting that echoes the question and whose fierce beauty suggests the correctness of its answer or at the very least propels me to continue to examine life through the magnifying glass of painting.

I make paintings in the weeks and months preceding a performance with the medium I will perform with. In DUST TO DUST: dirt, earth pigments, ink, hair, water & watercolor paper. As I resolve these paintings a technique develops & leads me to want to more deeply penetrate an idea. The painting process becomes a method and this method informs me of what and how the performance will proceed.

Like my colleague fellow painter & performance artist Carolee Shneeemann, I am a painter first and foremost; performance art comes from that.

I am undoubtedly human, woman and sensual. I have to feel and be felt. And there comes a time in my painting when I am no longer satisfied to find painterly solutions for evolutionary, environmental & cultural questions. I have to get inside the picture plane – and so I plan for full body immersion in the painting and in the contemplation – a performance art piece. And the performance becomes group contemplation & it pushes us to a new level of understanding.

I am not afraid to get dirty, I am not afraid of the cold – I have a high discomfort tolerance, I am not afraid of the rare disorder of the nervous system I have (Friedreich’s Ataxia). Because of FA I ride a wheelchair and the control of my muscles is progressively difficult – WHATEVA! I am not hung up on having a static or mainstream identity.

I am not shy about the different way my body moves, my performances often being athletic. I am curious and keen to see & feel just how I do move. My physicality, my vulnerably is a privilege. No one else is wired to move the way I do – it is unique and awkward and beautiful. Challenge is life & life demands struggle. I want to explore what it is to be human and anticipate how we might next evolve.

4 pre-performance paintings & 6 inch post DUST TO DUST paintings by Theresa Byrnes
DUST TO DUST performance installation ON VIEW!
& screening “The making of DUST TO DUST” – a 6 minute documentary by Kristiina Salaka
thru December 31st
616 East 9th Street (B &C)
December Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday 3 – 8pm
or by appointment – |

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