Sean Lyons makes the kind of art that I could stare at all day. And even if I did stare at it all day, it’s the kind of art I’d probably see something new in every time I looked at a new piece! Sean was generous enough to share more about his work and his practice for this edition of Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian.
Let’s start with your Monday Librarian gig! Can you tell us a bit about what you do?
I work at a public library in Lansing Michigan as a Public Services Librarian. I do a lot of front line reference work, and some programming, adult instruction, and collection maintenance.
So can I just say: I am thoroughly fascinated by your work! It’s vibrant and colourful and perplexing (in the best possible way!) and when I look at your pieces, I feel like I come away with more questions than answers. And I love that about your work. So, I’m going to start asking some of those questions, if that’s OK. To begin with, how did you get started doing the kind of paintings you do? What inspires you? How do you choose your subjects?
Thank You! Well part of that experience is what I intended actually. So that is good!
I was always drawn to the religious works of Asia throughout my life. Awhile back I decided to get back into painting after a hiatus and I wanted to try my hand at replicating this style somehow despite my formal art training being very “western”. So I thought that this sort of cultural re-interpretation should figure into the work somehow.
As most of the paintings I was interested in were so steeped in Buddhist or Hindu lore I found myself feeling that same way where I had more questions than answers as to their meaning. I did not understand what they were trying to convey, or why this person had 8 arms and 3 heads etc. Since I did not want to incorporate the subject matter I knew very little about I wanted to come up with my own myths and lore to include in the paintings, but also thought that somehow I would try to put the viewer in a place where they would feel the same way I did when looking at the paintings that inspired me.
In my search for subjects to include I have noticed a strong parallel in myths and popular culture. Many of the popular culture stories are based on the same premises of myths, religions, and fables to some extent, and I started to wonder if they serve the same roles in society. To take it further i decided not to simply do this type of work and have it be derived from one piece of popular culture (like have a painting that is all Star Wars characters, etc.), but rather look at popular culture as a whole and draw from it as I see fit to reinforce the cultural re-interpretation I was going for, and to create a visual dialogue that could still be inclusive.
Now I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do, but I wanted to come up with a way to not overthink the process of subject selection so I could just get right to work. So I came up with a system where I actually roll some dungeons and dragons dice to determine what subject goes where. So when I go to create a new painting I roll the dice and refer to my formula and choose the characters, and composition elements that way.
Actual dice are being rolled! I love it. Tell me more.
After I have rolled the dice to come up an idea for a new painting I then work it out by doing a series of rough sketches to zero in on a composition. Then I draw out the semi-final version on a canvas which is stretched over panel. I say semi-final because I typically change things as I am working on them and ideas come along as things progress. I still am learning how to best achieve what I am after, and trying new techniques, so my process is ever evolving. As of now it includes using many compasses, circle cutters,and automotive masking tape to get the clean lines I want. I use acrylic paints which has been challenging as I want to get that solid color look and to do that sometimes i have to go over an area up to 5 times depending on the color. I do incorporate a lot of metallic pigments which sometimes I mix myself. These don’t really show up in the photos so you have to imagine that anything that looks a gold or silver tone in the photos is all shiny and stuff.
So cool. And intense! Can you tell me more about your practice? How do you fit your art into your life?
I not only work as a librarian full time, but I also have a family at home, so my time to work on this stuff is super tight. The last painting took over 9 months to finish. I have a setup in my basement where i can work on them as time allows, which is usually after kiddo goes to bed around 8 or 9 and I work for a few hours until I decide it is not smart to continue since the early morning routine is just around the corner. This seems to work for me and has become such a habit that on the odd chance I do have time during the day to work on stuff it takes extra motivation to do so, and feels kinda weird.
Does your practice as an artist influence your work as a librarian? And vice versa, does your work as a librarian influence your practice? Talk about how, if it does.
I don’t think the artwork directly influences the library work. I do try to bring art into the library and have conducted art classes, and am exploring ways to offer more of an ongoing art program/makerspace in the future. I can see some of the library that makes its way into the subjects I choose because the Public Library’s collection is so steeped in popular culture.
And finally, the question with which I like to close out all these interviews: are you happy with the balance you’ve struck between working your day job and your art practice? Do you ever dream of quitting your day job and being a full-time artist?
I am happy with my life setup, and love that I am able to incorporate art into it. Of course I sometimes think it would be fantastic to be able to focus on your own thing full-time, but not being able to do so also gives the time I do have a more urgent, special feeling.
If you (or someone you know!) are a librarian who makes art in your spare time, ping me! I’d love to chat.