Ray Funk reviews the work of Trinidadian-born artist and poet John Lyons. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Here are excerpts from “Trinidad artist, writer John Lyons getting renewed attention in England” (Newsday):
John Lyons gets up every day with poetry his first concern.
He needs to write a first draft of at least one poem every morning before he goes forward, then often spends his day painting in the studio attached to his home in Cambridgeshire, north of London. When not in the studio, he is often sketching, even when travelling on a train and sometimes when watching television. He is constantly being creative. It is part of his life every day and he can’t stop.
His movement from poetry to painting is natural for him. He admits that there are things he can’t put into words as he noted in a recent interview with Art UK: “With painting, line, shape, colour, texture and a surface plane are fundamental. So painting is about putting these elements together, into syntactical connection that creates a harmony that can speak to people on a level that is very intuitive…There is so much that I feel that I often find difficult to put in words. When I’m painting, I am in a different place.”
Full of energy, Lyons is excited as 2022 has brought new attention to his artwork. He had four of his painting in the dramatic exhibition, Life Between Islands, British-Caribbean Art The 50’s – Now. It ran from December 2021 to April 2022 at the Tate Britain in which he was the oldest living artist to be featured in that very important visual acknowledgement of Caribbean artists in the UK. In the planning stages it did awaken curators to visit his studio to have him pull paintings out of storage for them to look at.
Following the Tate Britain exhibition, he recently had a month-long solo exhibition, Unmasking the Psyche at the Felix & Spear Gallery in Ealing, West London.
Though committed to painting, Lyons remains active as a poet. As one of the founding members of a decades-old circle of poets called Off The Page, he recently went to Manchester to read with other founding members and some members of the public in celebration of the work of John Latham, a poet and an acknowledged brilliant scientist of Manchester University who died a year ago.
Lyons was born in Trinidad, raised both there and, for part of his childhood, lived with his grandmother in Tobago. His childhood was steeped in Carnival and Trinidad folklore.
Art was second nature to him; and as a young child he was constantly drawing in the margins of his schoolbooks. When chided for that misdemeanour, he turned his attention to the house walls. He has never stopped drawing. “At the age of 12, I gathered a few urchins from the Tobago village, near Scarborough where we lived then and began teaching them to draw,” he said.
It was natural for him to move from drawing to painting; at first with coloured chalks, then to watercolours. “I remember,” he said, “playing with colours. Colours attracted. “Also I loved making my own kites and seeing the sunlight through the multi-coloured tissue paper.”
His uncle made him his first easel and painting became his focus. He was inspired by small picture books he found in a Port of Spain bookshop of the works of Hogarth, Rubens, and El Greco; and in the Trinidad National Museum and Art Gallery the work of Cazabon who became his absent tutor.
He also remembered finding solace in literature as a young child after the death of his mother. “I read and read and read and got lost in books. That led me to writing.”
At the age of 25 in 1959, he left Trinidad for England to study at Goldsmiths College School of Art and Design. After his design degree he went on to get an art teaching diploma at the University-Upon-Tyne.
Lyons embarked on a teaching career spanning over two and a half decades during which time he never stopped painting and writing.
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