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 Peter John Lyons  (1960 - )

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts / New Zealand      Known for: photo realist barren landscape

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Peter John Lyons
An example of work by Peter John Lyons
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"His landscapes have the mystical stillness and celestial light of Vermeer," a Boston Globe (2/12/03) critic observed in a long profile of Peter Lyons, a painter of dreamlike yet realistic landscapes.  Trained as a physicist, Lyons treats the subjects of his paintings -- deserted railroad yards, industrial tanks, and empty city streets with an awed and respectful eye.  The places and things he represents are inspired by real places and real things captured, as he puts it, "in a moment of revelation" in which his scientific and poetic appreciations of the world coincide.  Working in what he calls a "luminist manner," Lyons creates paintings that evoke memories of other artists: the luminism of Martin Johnson Heade; the precisionism of Charles Sheeler; and the enigmatic eeriness of Edward Hopper.

Peter Lyons was born in Dunedin, in the South Island of New Zealand, where from an early age he was awed by a strong spiritual connection with the landscape. He began drawing, and by the time he was eight had begun painting, first with watercolor, and then with oils.  Following high school, he pursued a degree in physics, having been disillusioned with formal art training at school.  He left university in 1982 to become, on his own, a painter in the luminist manner.  His first exhibit was at a small local gallery in Dunedin, New Zealand, which was successful enough for him to have the money for a one way ticket to Los Angeles in 1990, where he lived for six years.  In Los Angeles he worked at construction jobs while developing his painting abilities. Lyons found the flat desert landscapes of Southern California inspiring, and he made a number of paintings based on them.

In 1996, a friend got him a job in Boston, baking croissants, which he did for two years before finding his present employment at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where he works the night shift as a security guard.  As his work hours occur when the galleries are empty, he can enjoy and study his favorite paintings without interruption.  Martin Heade and Edward Hopper are particularly inspiring to him.

Lyon's paintings seem realistic, but they speak of memory and myth.  They evoke dreams of different times and distant places.  They look like photo-realism, but they are not.  Lyons says he occasionally sights objects in the landscape, such as a railroad car or an oil tank, which cause him a moment of revelation, and bring to mind for him a complete finished painting.  His works speak of our ambivalence toward technological progress.  In them the 'machine', most often in the form of railroad tracks, looks as permanent as the sky itself.  Nature and man, - represented by his machines, seem at a standoff, neither willing to yield.

Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Paintings by Peter Lyons, exhibition catalogue for the Richard York Gallery of New York.

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