Giles Lyon

Lynn Goode Gallery

Giles Lyon generates a rich body of work from a fairly straightforward idea. He flings Jackson Pollock–esque loops and skeins of acrylic paint onto a pale, largely monochromatic ground, then folds the wet canvas over to make web like splotches that resemble Rorschach inkblots. Next, using a thin brush, he compulsively outlines every drip and paint trail, merging the crisp rendering of Japanese animation with a spiky, nervous line that recalls the drawings of Dr. Seuss. The result is a biomorphic vortex brimming with subliminal suggestiveness, and Lyon’s outlining relieves viewers of some of the guilt that goes along with discovering demons, genitalia, and tortured flesh in the inkblots.

In these paintings, Lyon reconciles a host of visual languages: the allover dripfrenzy of Pollock, the intricate traceries of medieval scrollwork, contemporary medical illustrations, and the baroque complexities of graffiti and underground comic art. Paintings with an allover composition, such as Blue Celtic Interface, 1993, allude to Modernist works, while more symmetrical, figure/ground based compositions such as Blue Splatter on Red, 1993, have the bold graphic quality of ’60s album-cover art. Lyon’s pastel surfaces tend to be dry and grungy, perked up by knots of clotted, cracking housepaint and the occasional expanse of metallic pigment.

Lyon nods at the linguistic and ironic concerns of ’80s artists with his riffs on diverse sign-systems and homages to hippie art. Yet he is ultimately less concerned with addressing his immediate precursors than in resolving the even older generational conflict between Pop and AbEx. Critics often cite Roy Lichtenstein’s cartoon renderings of “spontaneous” brushstrokes as a precedent for the mediated abstractions of the ’80s. As controlled as Lyon’s outlined drips may be, they aren’t nearly as self-conscious as Lichtenstein’s. By keeping his contour lines as spontaneous as the gestures they encircle, Lyon stays closer to AbEx’s roots in Surrealist automatism, though, inevitably, the stuff he dredges from his unconscious reflects life in a media-saturated environment. His work may be an old-fashioned “map of the psyche,” but it is a psyche that dreams in cartoons.

Tom Moody