The Paper Interviews: Artist Larry Lyons

by Mike Turton

Larry Lyons. Photo by M. Turton

Cold Spring Artist Larry Lyons’ new show, New Paintings, opened on July 14 at the gallery at the Beacon Theatre in Beacon, N.Y. The exhibit will run through Aug. 11. Lyons pulled up a chair at Cup-o-ccino on Cold Spring’s Main Street recently and spoke with The Paper‘s Michael Turton about his work and the world of art. Their conversation has been edited.

The Paper: Where did you grow up?

Lyons: Northern New Jersey — Bergen County.

The Paper: At what point in your life did you start thinking of yourself as an artist?

Lyons: It’s a complex question, but there was a moment when I first held a crayon in my hand. And (Cold Spring shop keeper) Peter Clark, a conceptual artist, once told me I had to start thinking of myself as an artist. I went home and converted my bedroom into a studio.

The Paper: Are you self-taught or have you had formal art education?

Lyons: I’m self-taught.

The Paper: How would you describe your teacher?

Lyons: Open to influence, easily swayed. Open to things he didn’t know about.

The Paper: Do you think art can be taught?

Lyons: It can definitely be taught. Technique can be taught. But art schools can be big killers of artists. Many quit after art school.

The Paper: What percentage of art is skill, and what percentage is inspiration?

Lyons: Some people are just extremely talented and can create something beautiful but are not involved in the process of art. I don’t have a ton of natural talent. What I have is the desire to be part of the process of art.

The Paper: How do you describe your art to someone who has never seen it?

Lyons: What I usually say is that I like to do big, geometric abstractions. A ton of shapes that together create an image. Many of ​​my paintings are bird metaphors. I keep adding to the painting until you can’t see that image.
The Paper: At least half of your work is in black and white. What draws you to that?

Lyons: I don’t know how to answer that, but I am drawn to black and white. That white cop car with black letters that just went by was very appealing to me. I like the contrast, the hard edge.

The Paper: Do you see most issues in life in black and white, or is that too Freudian?

Lyons: I see nothing in black and white in the other areas of my life! Maybe I’m drawn to the simplification of black and white in art.

The Paper: How do you arrive at a concept for a painting?

Lyons: Many of my paintings have a native or primitive imagery to them. I’ll start with something like that and just experiment and see where it goes.

The Paper: You have a “day job.” Does it affect your art, or is it strictly a way to help pay your bills?

Lyons: It doesn’t influence my art — it is totally separate. It only creates time limitations.

The Paper: What’s your favorite kind of pizza?

Lyons: Pineapple and ham. Yeah. I really like that.

The Paper: What do you think is the most common misconception about art and artists? What is it that people often just don’t get?

Lyons: (They don’t realize) that art is everywhere around them. There are kids on Kemble Avenue who have done incredible drawings on the sidewalk. It is some of the best art I’ve seen in Cold Spring.

The Paper: Speaking of misconceptions, I admit was surprised when I first learned that you drive a Dodge Challenger, a muscle car. Is it legitimate to even ask you if that’s unusual for an artist?

Lyons: I’ve never thought of that. It is very unusual, although they’re unrelated. Klein liked baseball. Duchamp loved chess. I think muscle cars are my distraction — the power, going fast.

The Paper: Value is a very subjective. What is your reaction when you hear of a painting being sold for a million dollars or more?

Lyons: I’m happy when art gets that level of attention, but usually ​the ​artist has nothing to do with it by then. It’s the current owner or the dealer or the auction house.

The Paper: How do you feel about putting a price tag on your work?

Lyons: It’s very difficult. I very much enjoy giving my work away if someone wants to live with it every day. Other artists don’t like it if I devalue my work. But a person with a day job can do that.

The Paper: Have you produced a painting that you have been perfectly happy with?

Lyons: No. They’re all imperfectly perfect. There will be no more (Picasso’s) Guernica.

The Paper: What’s the last book you read for fun?

Lyons: The Mick Jagger biography. Although I don’t think Jagger will ever speak to the author again.

The Paper: Did you evolve into your current style of painting, or has it remained pretty consistent?

Lyons: I’ve evolved through stages — cartooning, landscapes, abstract landscapes — before arriving here.

The Paper: Do you think you will evolve further, to a drastically different style?

Lyons: Well, I would hope so. That would be great. I’d love to see where it goes.

The Paper: How do you feel when you first approach a blank canvas? What is your primary emotion?

Lyons: I’m never intimidated. I like to just jump in and start. I sometimes start four or five paintings and then go back and forth.

The Paper: As an artist, is there a question you hate being asked?

Lyons: Yes. “Can you paint my dog?” There are artists who paint dogs beautifully. If I painted your dog you would not be happy.

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