By Chad Thurman
Photos by Darris Hartman Photography
Shadows are all around us. These ethereal and incorporeal plays on light and dark are as much a part of life as if is a part of life. A fleeting shadow is what we see; all the while, it’s also what we don’t see. Within the realm of visual perception, shadows are a part of our shared spheres of everyday experience, an integral part of our existence. When shadows are what inspire an artist, it can be said that inasmuch as the light creates the dark, the dark, too, can inspire the light of creation. This inspiration from the penetrating power of light and the divine veil of the dark is what perpetuates Florida artist Matt Lyons’s creative spark.
“Inspiration to me is that some people go through life as if the entire world is a shopping mall for their creativity; though they’re not consciously shopping,” Lyons says. “Something pops up and they say, ‘I’m going to use this for a short story, or a song, or a poem, or a painting’—that’s how I am. Everything can have the deepest significance or meaning in this way, and for me this is where the shopping begins.”
Matt Lyons’s life as an artist began when he was a small child. Though he did experiment with some primitive painting as a boy, he started from an early age with drawing, using simple pen and ink on any surface that presented itself for his expression. While in high school art classes, he developed an interest in detail, shadowing, and perspective. For Lyons, drawing eventually became a kind of hobby, “like playing the guitar—in my idle time, I’d pick it up and do it. With art, it became the same kind of deal. I’d wake up every morning with a cup of coffee, a piece of paper, and an ordinary pen, and I’d doodle or draw. I’d just go at it like that for years and years.”
With art, it became the same kind of deal. I’d wake up every morning with a cup of coffee, a piece of paper, and an ordinary pen, and I’d doodle or draw. I’d just go at it like that for years and years.
Though Lyons had developed his skills with pen and ink through his early and teenage years, he came of age as a painter while living in Shenzhen, China, where he was inspired by the painters he met. “I’d moved to China to work with a volunteer program at an orphanage. I fell in love with the area and made friends there.” One of these friends knew that he was an artist, so he told Matt about an entire village of painters called Dafen Youhua Cun. After some goading from his Chinese friends, the young artist decided to visit this village of painters. The American artist discovered a thriving community that consisted of “stacks and stacks” of centrally located one-room apartments, not at all like what he was used to seeing in Northwest Florida, where he grew up.
“It was easy to get lost in there; it was like a maze,” Lyons recalls. “By day, the painters worked at these art supply stores within the village, and at night you could see them at work painting in their flats. On any given night there were hundreds of artists painting by lamplight. These artists would duplicate masterpieces like The Starry Night or the Mona Lisa, and then they’d ship them to the United States to sell. The talent there was just incredible, and I thought, ‘I’m going to try to paint.’”
I’m gravitating more toward painting the theme monochromatic with just pops of color. This adds a layer of depth to the whole painting, which is what I think it’s all about—the many layers.
With this newfound passion for painting, Lyons discovered that he did not have as much patience as he had thought, and that he had much to learn about color theory. While in China, Lyons developed his patience and the necessary skill of mixing pigments. He then brought these newfound artistic assets back to the United States, where he raided his mother’s stash of acrylic paints and supplies. Lyons relates, “I haven’t looked back; I’ve been painting with acrylics since then.”
When discussing his developed painting style, Matt Lyons credits inspiration from diverse sources that include everyday sounds, Hemingway short stories, and the street art of London. Lyons has since developed a technique to convey mood more subtly than could be accomplished with black and white alone. “I really love a stark black-and-white theme with a fitting color background. I’m gravitating more toward painting the theme monochromatic with just pops of color. This adds a layer of depth to the whole painting, which is what I think it’s all about—the many layers.”
One of Lyons’s most thought-provoking pieces, The Greatest Tragedy in Life Is the Irreversibility of Time, depicts a young child wearing adult sunglasses and looking up; it shows the perspective of a soul that has no encumbrances—a being with nothing to fret over. Lyons observes, “In this painting, I see my fiancée’s little boy, and he’s really special to me. I look at him and that is my muse there; I see an innocent baby and then he grows up. I think I’ve realized that you grow from a toddler to twenty just wanting to be older, and then you hit a point and you see everything the exact opposite. I look at him and I think, ‘Don’t grow any older!’ When you look at life in this way, you realize that it is a tragedy that you can’t reverse time, and you’re going to have to grow up—everything that that means is encompassed in this painting.”
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Some of Matt Lyons’s work is currently on display at the Homeowner’s Collection Gallery in Ruskin Place, Seaside, Florida. He can be reached for commission at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit mattlyonsart.com to learn more.