New York

Giles Lyon

Alexandre de Folin

Giles Lyon’s new paintings combine high seriousness of purpose with a playfully cryptic use of material. They absorb a profusion of sources—from Pollock’s allover drips, Warhol’s “found” abstractions modeled on Rorschach inkblots, and Taaffe’s decorative motifs to Japanese animation and Dr. Seuss illustrations—into an intensely nervous stylistic mélange reminiscent of Texas Funk. Another realm of influences derives from Lyon’s interest in the sciences, particularly epidemiology and cell pathology; he once imagined a career as an illustrator for biology books. But no earnest clinicality precludes the scatological humor that characterizes these works, nor the artist’s physical mistreatment of the canvas.

The six large paintings on view comprised two types of abstractions that juxtapose the chaotic and the controlled: woven patterns in a full palette and gestural cavortings in pairs of contrasting colors. The paint is applied onto unprimed, unstretched canvas laid on the floor or fixed to the wall. Buried in or beneath the layers of paint are items and detritus found in the artist’s environment: dust, hair, clamshells, credit cards. Reflecting what the English critic Brandon Taylor calls “a twin strategy of fascination and disappointment” (desire and frustration, in other words) characteristic of “slack art,” Lyon’s paintings involve the viewer in their eccentric accumulation of visual tropes and personal residue and at the same time disappoint with their decorativeness. They are at their most intriguing, and perplexing, when one scours the image for unambiguous evidence of their psychological provenance.

Insectoplasmic Sunrise, 1997, recalls the cover of a sci-fi paperback—a cosmic eruption of fiery plasma into the void. The pale green and yellow forms, delicately outlined with darker color, spew at the viewer like spilled guts. A red web of lines floats on the luminous blue ground in The Age of Syntheplasm, 1997, like an amorphous but sentient creature from the original, low-tech Star Trek: a cipher for the terror of entropic drift.

In the second body of work, whiplash forms are mostly replaced by a multitude of overlapping color fields arranged tapestry-like, placid and frontal. Populated by goofy, cartoonish creatures rendered with impressive allure, Memory Quilt, 1996–97, invokes Mike Kelley’s assemblages of soft, soiled toys. Unlike Kelley, however, Lyon veers away from sexually charged imagery; his transgression involves other norms. Multiverse Compression, 1997, displays bright kaleidoscopic patterns (supplemented by swatches of fabric worked into the surface) arranged with a sensuous logic and interrupted by footprints the artist made by walking on the canvas. With their sketchiness and ill-defined references to the body, Lyon’s paintings are meditations on, and occasionally negotiations with, the relevance of “static” painting, abstraction in particular, in what appears to be an age of immediate impermanence.

Marek Bartelik