The Rules of Abstraction: A Conversation on Art with Steve Lyons

By Cara Vincent




Steve Lyons, at play with paint and in no particular mood, didn’t necessarily set out to create his now multi-piece series entitled, “The Painted Ladies.” Instead, he explains, the ladies created themselves and have now, through Steve Lyon’s hand, created what he likes to call a narrative.

The thing about ‘The Painted Ladies’ is that they more or less painted themselves. I was alone in my studio here and really began to just play with the abstract, a smear of color here and there on the canvas, and when I stepped away for a moment and looked back, there they were, the two ladies. They are on a tour of a city. The ladies take a tour of the gardens, visit the fair, overlook some trees. They go to a ball, and all the while, as their story continues to unfold, they demand to get prettier! I don’t know how they do it, but they do. They’ve even insisted that I draw their faces with graphite because it is more delicate. I obliged, naturally.

That’s how it is with Steve Lyons’s art– life is pervasive throughout. It is easy to imagine movement, just on the periphery of what exists on the canvas. It’s as though in the mere seconds that just passed or are shortly approaching, ample and spirited life takes place all around. This energy is frequent with many of his pieces, not solel the Painted Ladies series. To stare for several moments into a churning, robust sea and be able to sense its undulation, to be able to feel, if only temporarily, that you are engulfed in calm but ardent waters, is evidence of Steve Lyons’s ability to capture a vitality that exists far beyond the confines of a canvas.                                    




The definition of Impasto, an 18th century Italian term, from the Oxford Dictionary: “The process or technique of laying on paint thickly so that it stands out from a surface.” The impasto technique is featured heavily throughout Steve Lyons’s work, and it is one of the defining characteristics that help make his paintings so sculptural and full of depth. Not to forget,  internationally famous, as well. With the word “impasto” being so new (and delectable) to my vocabulary, Lyons describes his relationship to this historic method.

“Every brush stroke is a challenge, a learning experience. What is it going to teach me today? People look at abstract art and say, ‘Oh, I can do that’, but what they don’t realize is that there are rules to this abstraction,” Lyons explains. “You must implement the action of simultaneously ‘pushing and pulling’ the paint.” This is Lyons’s kind way of putting it simply for me. The “pushing” is impasto; the “pulling,” he points out, is Sgraffito (18th century Italian, literally means ‘scratched away.’ From O.D: “A form…made by scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of color.”)




While it is, no doubt deservedly so, a fact that Lyons has done well for himself by way of painting, it is apparent that fortune and fame are not what keeps him actively working and inspired today. Instead, it is a capacious love and respect of the craft. To love a medium so much that you can literally build a landscape and narrative from it is truly no small feat, and Lyons’s love for paint is evident, both in conversation and on the canvas. He marvels at the versatility of paint, how it behaves on a canvas, how it interacts with other paint. He enjoys the physicality of paint, what his body can do with it and what it inevitably can’t. Lyons recently had to take a several week hiatus after a long-term, painting-induced shoulder injury. He is glad to be back at it.          

Steve Lyons has recently enjoyed a large amount of success in Germany and Mexico. In the former, Lyons was honored to win the shared exhibition prize at the Stadt Galerie in Westerland, Germany, a competition based on a “blind process of nomination and selection where thirty-five artists from all over the world are judged solely on their work.” It was also in Germany, while he was in Berlin painting at Heckman-Hofe, that Lyons really learned the true value of his work. Around a hundred thousand dollars worth of his art was stolen by the man who was supposed to be his art manager. Lyons, in line with his good nature, jokes about this as being “highly complementary.” His art was located eventually with help from Germany’s official art theft unit, and will be returned to him soon.

“It’s how human beings are, I think. Most artists, whether they are painters or writers or sculptors want to know that their art has some value to someone—even if it is just five dollars. It’s inherent within us that we want to know that our efforts are at least worth the—“ in Lyons’s case, “—canvases they’re created on.”

When asked about why he chose to show a specific collection of paintings in Germany as compared to the specific collection he chose to show in Mexico, Lyons explains, “They [Germans] don’t really relate to seascapes because what is associated with ‘coastal feelings’ in Germany is, as geography would have it, not related to the sea.” The Germans are also, as it turns out, big fans of European expressionist landscape paintings and have been some of the largest proprietors of his work. He went on to explain that in Mexico and in the South (he had recent exhibitions in Florida) “The light hits things differently there. When you look at certain things you can tell that the way light plays into what you are seeing is very different from how it is in the North. I chose to show a lot of my brighter, more colorful pieces in Mexico in an attempt to tackle the light source.”

Steve Lyons lives and works in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 2016, he looks forward to showing his work in exhibitions in Potsdam, Germany and in Dresden, which at one point in history was one of the art capitals of Europe. He is looking forward to helping Dresden become that once again. He alludes to a potential upcoming installation at the Festival of Lights in Berlin, as well. Lyons prefers to be called an artist over a painter, because this lets him feel more free to explore a multitude of mediums and to satisfy his lifelong need to simply create.


To find out more about Steve Lyons’ impressive collection of works and current and upcoming shows, his official website is


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