“As a former contemporary art museum curator, I’ve had the pleasure of working with fascinating artists, dealers, and collectors over the years. Now I write freelance art reviews, mostly for the Kansas City Star, work with private clients, and in general, write about art and ideas that I love from the edge of the Kansas prairie.” (Dana Self)
VISUAL ART REVIEW: Portrait heads and abstract paintings form a perfect union
April 10, 2013
by Dana Self, Special to The Star
While monumental portrait heads and abstract paintings may seem like strange bedfellows, Mike Lyon’s and Caleb Taylor’s works form a perfect aesthetic union of allover surface uniformity and tactile expressiveness.
Near/far, seen/unseen, reveal/conceal: these are the binaries that Caleb Taylor excavates in his stunning acrylic and oil on canvas layered abstractions. Each background is a field of gestures that is partially concealed by striated horizontal and vertical paint bands through which we aspire to see.
Taylor questions the relationship of the image to the surface of the painting. He notes, “I investigate the concealment of images in an attempt to define spatial experiences for the viewer and myself. This process of over-painting creates associations between internal systems and the surfaces that contain them.”
The calligraphic nature of the broad dark strokes that dominate the surface of the paintings creates a language of past and present, of time passing and time emerging. We maintain the visual connection to the background gestures while perceiving the language of the surface, simultaneously and individually.
Digging through the black layers of “Space Gate III, Barrier” to the intensely hued background, memory and movement fragments emerge. Taylor unlocks tension between background and foreground, yet accommodates their contradictory energies.
Through the aggregate elements of the gestural and multihued background and the darkly dense, textural surface, Taylor emphasizes paint’s primacy.
Portraiture identifies us civically on passports and driver’s licenses and emotionally through photographs by friends and family. Mike Lyon’s monumental pen-and-ink portrait drawings are feats of technical know-how and expressiveness. While it’s easy to get lost in the technical details of how he computerizes the image and automates the pen, more important is how Lyon marries individualized physicality with dynamic interior identity.
In one sense the portraits are simple and elemental, yet paradoxically, that straightforwardness and their enormity sensationalize them, in the best possible way, by focusing on something singular about each sitter. Many have quirky expressions or seem caught in a conversational moment.
While honorific portraiture diminishes emotional content for idealized perfection, Lyon’s portraits are emotive and specific, as he emphasizes the aesthetic characteristics he finds most interesting, such as wavy hair or an expressive mouth.
Lyon describes one sensation of the drawings,
“the rhythm and movement of these miles and miles of meandering ink trails are chant-like — long sutra-recitations which reverberate and conjure something familiar — something that’s the sum of all the lines, something ‘simple’ that’s easy to understand all at once.”
The question of how to organize the visual and conceptual data that accrete as a portrait of a person is fundamental to Lyon’s work. While he answers the query technologically, he also answers it psychically. Each portrait coalesces identity into an ambitious exchange between sitter, artist and viewer.
And that underlying, multifaceted exchange sustains both artists’ work.