In New Paltz, the Soaring Art of Andrew Lyght

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Sometimes one misses the news about the events closest to home. Many thanks to Carl E. Hazlewood for bringing to our attention an exhibition by Guyanese artist Andrew Lyght, which is on view right across the river from us. “Andrew Lyght: Full Circle” is presently showing at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at the State University of New York at New Paltz. The exhibition runs through April 10, 2016. The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art is located at 1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz, New York. Read Joyce Beckenstein’s (The New York Times) review here and see excerpts below.

Beckenstein also praises the exhibition catalog, edited by L. H. Roper (history professor at SUNY New Paltz) stressing that it “offers insights about Guyana that get to the heart of Mr. Lyght’s sensibilities.” She adds that “the volume’s impressive essays also speak to Mr. Lyght’s Renaissance-like training under Guyana’s most famous artist, Edward R. Burrowes.”

Andrew Lyght: Full Circle,” at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at the State University of New York at New Paltz, soars on the arc of a simple line. Mr. Lyght blurs all distinctions between drawing, painting, sculpture, digital photography and installation art. Each iteration of his distinct style charts the personal odyssey of a naturalized African-American artist from Guyana — a small South American nation — to Montreal, to Brooklyn, to Europe and, finally, to Kingston, N.Y., the birthplace of America’s first indigenous art movement, the Hudson River School. This stunning show, a long overdue retrospective exhibition for this artist, spins the stuff of American art — its diversity, proud identity, independence and gritty determination — full circle.

Childhood memories drive much of Mr. Lyght’s work. “As a boy in Guyana,” he said to me, “I got into lots of trouble, always wanting to take things apart.” One day his mother punished him by making him kneel in a corner, facing the wall. He had a pencil, and that was the moment when he knew he would become an artist. While he creates his art, however, he is unaware of its association with some pivotal moment. Such is the case with the centerpiece of the exhibition, “Flight Kite/Linear Dimensions” (1976), which nostalgically recalls a boyhood in which Mr. Lyght made and sold kites. It consists of three brightly airbrushed circular forms, their vibrant colors enlivening an overlay of geometric lines and shapes. With cords attached to the painted canvas, Mr. Lyght extends his drawn lines into actual lines, crisscrossing them toward the ceiling and along walls, transforming empty gallery space into a webbed labyrinth. The cords slightly tilt the circles as if they were kites about to soar. Mr. Lyght explained this zigging and zagging with a story about how he would, as a child, “walk a kite home” by throwing the stick over telephone lines, repeating the action for many blocks and playing havoc with the city’s network of overhead wires.

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In another work, “In Flight Flock/Sheathing 0670LM,” (2013-14), Mr. Lyght pares this architectural cat’s cradle down to its minimal essence. It consists of six monochromatic works made from bendable plywood sheets, each one “floating” on the wall like a curved sail, the concave shapes held taut by a nylon cord. Painted surfaces, reminiscent of Guyana’s exuberant festivals, are incised with intricate abstract geometric designs inspired by Peruvian Nazca earth drawings and ancient Native American Timehri carvings, indigenous to Guyana, that Mr. Lyght studied as a student.

These spontaneous freehand drawings, suggesting natural and figurative forms, appear throughout Mr. Lyght’s multimedia works and function as a personal signature, a way for him to connect his art to the history and traditions that are a large part of his identity. This elegant calligraphy appears on the two 55-gallon steel drums in “Fixtures/Double-Hung Portholes 04696DL” (2004), in which the drums are surrounded by a post-and-lintel frame. While the drums refer to the sights of Guyana’s busy costal harbor, the arrangement of forms in this work recalls the simple post-and-lintel system used in domestic architecture throughout Guyana. [. . .]

Information: 845-257-3844 or newpaltz.edu/museum.

[Photos above by Bob Wagner. Top photo: Andrew Lyght’s “Flight Kite/Linear Dimensions” (1976), being shown at the Samuel Dorsky Museum as part of the artist’s retrospective.  Second photo: Mr. Lyght’s “In Flight Flock/Sheathing 0670LM” (2013-14).]

For full review, see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/21/nyregion/in-new-paltz-the-soaring-art-of-andrew-lyght.html

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