Giles Lyon, April 18-May 25, 2002, at Feigen Contemporary, 535 West 20th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
Giles Lyon confirms that painting is in good hands with the younger generation. Lyon's second solo show with Feigen is a visual success. His previous chaotic compositions in candy colors have lost none of their spontaneous charm while becoming more controlled and concise thematically.
There are seven large paintings in the main gallery. Most striking is Poppa's Last Party, an explosion of color. Spreading out from the center are neckties that belonged to Lyon's grandfather. A mesh of tight knitted spirals and dollops of paint anchor the ties. As the ties spread out from the centrifugal primordial soup, the paint lessens to reveal thickly stained canvas. The painting evokes a psychedelic Big Bang theory -- it is at once an explosion of life creating small specks of planetary paint and the contracting "Big Crunch" of the cosmos, where the same brush strokes dissolve into nothingness.
Arsenic Lobster is full of shapes that look like intestines -- albeit comic ones typical of Lyon's transformation of paint splatters by outlining them. The painting has staples, hair and sequins worked into a background of reddish-brown stained raw canvas. Surprisingly, the biological and residual components do not make for a grim painting. The colors almost move like an animated film across the surface of the painting. The gestural splashes of paint resemble a messy Kandinsky work. Many paintings in the show have a synesthetic quality -- you can almost hear the whizzing and banging of a cartoon as eyeballs pop out of nowhere and stalagmites of paint grow out of biomorphic caverns.
Two paintings, Tuesday and Phoenix, contain a motif of the twin towers, reappearing and disappearing in the compositions repeatedly. Lyon's studio in Long Island City had a view of the World Trade Centers and it is no surprise that they have appeared in his work. In any case, the melancholy of these works seems supported by the flowering Queens Anne's Lace dried and pressed on the surface. Delicate plant life contrasts the layers of thick acrylic.
The elusiveness and wonder of Lyon's work lies in this conceit. Lyon works by collecting traces of his life in the studio on the surfaces of his work. Footprints develop from walking on the paintings, paint is spilled, even three dead mice are found and lovingly attached to one canvas. This obsessive-compulsive quality of the work is then harnessed and refined through outlining and defining the effluvia. Beauty is created from the detritus with acidic greens, buttery yellows, hot pinks and turquoise.
Downstairs are many untitled small works on paper. They read like details of his paintings and are simpler. With less action going on in them they are a meditative rest from the wild journey in the gallery upstairs. Just like their large counterparts they free the mind up to form figures and shapes out of the organic flow of paint. This work is enjoyable because of this interaction with the mental desire to form figurative elements when only a few hints are given. Lyon's earlier work resembled Rorschach inkblots and while the composition in these new works is freer and the paint is looser, the magic mess is still under control.
SHERRY WONG is Assistant Editor of Artnet Magazine.