Conversations with Lucinda Lyons

How are you? Sorry about the half finished, garbled letter. To be honest I’m a little unhinged at the moment. My parents who used to live a field’s walk away from me in the house I grew up in as a child have had to sell up, and next week will move to Spain forever. They were […]

Artists, Interviews
November 13, 2013
by Victoria Coster
Lucinda Lyons, Gala. Photograph courtesy Lucinda Lyons

Lucinda Lyons, Gala. Photograph courtesy Lucinda Lyons

How are you? Sorry about the half finished, garbled letter. To be honest I’m a little unhinged at the moment. My parents who used to live a field’s walk away from me in the house I grew up in as a child have had to sell up, and next week will move to Spain forever. They were both art teachers, which is how they met: my mum went for an interview to take my dad’s job and they have been together since. Eventually they stopped teaching and became full time artists, mainly working for the leisure industry; doing up nightclubs, hotels and restaurants. I would stay up late as a child and help paint sculptures, going with my dad to fix things like huge devils to the ceiling of nightclubs, or gluing enormous Buddhas back together in the middle of London. When I was 15, they let me do an entire wall myself in a restaurant of Dr. Spock and the Starship Enterprise. Once, dad even went with me to Oslo to paint a mural. After my brothers died, my parents used to take me out of school to go to different parts of the world, to see sculptures of giants in Naxos, temples in Ephesus and Sphinxes in Karnach.

They always seemed to be giving things away and helping people: teaching for free in the house, or getting ripped off by nightclub owners. They never had much money, but always knew how to use any money they did have. I had a very exciting childhood: every holiday was an adventure, and my head was always full of stories, music and art. That keen sense of awed wonderment at being alive has never left me.

I began working from the age of 15, continuing throughout my degree and also the time I spent in my studio in Glasgow, where I met my husband and had children. My husband would constantly goad me for being without a soul due to the nature of the work I was producing. At the time, there had also been a decrease of work in the industry due to the smoking ban. With these two things in mind, I decided to sell prints of my past commercial work on e-bay for a while, just to keep us afloat. I then resigned myself to giving up on it all.

The prints began to sell like hotcakes at this point – particularly the nudes. These were mainly unpaid sketches I had been asked to do, considered risqué by the nightclub owner who had initially requested nudes and then seemed taken aback by the fact that women in the paintings had no clothes on. This kind of thing used to happen a lot. They would tell me I could paint whatever I liked, so I would, and then my paintings somehow appeared offensive to people. In particular, I had been commissioned to paint a soldier in Bradford during World War I, which was then taken down as it was believed that it may start a riot. So I decided to start drawing again, but this time only nudes drawn from pornographic images on the internet. These were images I found disturbing and upsetting, but I altered them and changed their faces to play around with them a bit. I wasn’t always content, mainly not all at this point, and often alarmed myself by what I had drawn. I carried on, wanting to work through it until I begin to enjoy drawing and couldn’t stop, until I felt like I was making up some kind of new language that exists in a different world inside my head. I painted one woman who was so brazenly and confidently sexual and animalistic that I found it a little hard to look at her. She received hundreds of views, but nobody bid on her, with many requesting to buy her only after the auction had ended.

I am learning a lot as I am painting, through the reactions I get from my collectors, friends and family who see my art. Their opinions all differ and fascinate me, encouraging me to challenge and enrich the ways I perceive my world.

My sister in law is a very strong feminist, with an Amazon-like build and a stronger physique than many men I have met. She is great to argue with, and finds my paintings a little disturbing as she doesn’t like the idea of women displayed as meat. I explain that I agree, and that I’m working my way through something. I explain that I often also find my paintings disturbing, but that I’m making a parody of what I see in internet porn; that I’m theatricalising it, exaggerating it, and blowing the image I see in front of me out of proportion to make it seem as ridiculous as I see it. The women often look like dolls, so I play upon that, but seek to bring out their animalism, as that is what interests me most. I feel that you wouldn’t mess with these women, and try to draw the part of them I perceive as similar to a praying mantis. These images are only one part of the world I’m trying to create: the other women are heroines, or my ideals of the best I see in the women around me.

I painted Aphrodite after she had walked out of the ocean into a desolate age, an age that had driven itself to ruin through greed and corruption and seems totally barren to her. She sits down on the rocks and worries about what to do, feeling that all her efforts will be fruitless, and that all is lost. However, by touching the ground with the love within her, the air around her becomes filled with that love, causing the plants to regrow at her feet and twist around her body. She has unknowingly summoned the birds as well, darting around her and weaving her hair in endless, infinite patterns and rhythms. She has restored the nature that had been destroyed by mankind, showing us that it will always win when combined with love.

Perhaps I’m getting a little carried away trying to explain myself, but this supernatural being to me symbolizes the good in people. She is like a troubled mother, who thinks she is getting everything wrong and that all is lost, something I imagine that many women feel, as I see it in a lot of very beautiful women I know. I’m talking about an overall feeling you get when you look at some women, not conventional or media based ideas of beauty. I’m trying to capture the good that I see in some people when they seem troubled and unaware of their own beauty, when it is shining out of them. I showed this painting to my sister in law and she seemed genuinely touched by it. I explained what it is meant to represent: the apotheosis of the troubled mother or woman, worried and despairing, but so full of love that she cannot help but bring hope and harmony to everything and everyone she touches, all the while secretly wanting to say to her, “like you do to people.” Instead, I just showed her the painting, hoping she understood what I was saying about her character and that of other women I admire.

From my customers I have experienced no problems whatsoever with the fact that I list my pictures as “erotic” on e-bay. They seem genuinely moved or excited by them, which makes me eager to make more. The tiny village where I live has turned into a sort of theme park. At the weekends, the place is full of tourists either dressed up as Nazis and British soldiers for the popular World War II event, (possibly quite disturbing for the elderly population of Ramsbottom) or riding around as round-heads in the park, re-enacting some battle or another.

Despite this weird frivolity, there would definitely be a problem if I were to stand one of my paintings up in the street. In Tesco, a couple of people who worked there asked me what I painted, and when I said nudes there was a lot of giggling and red faces. This same pair had just told me how they meet up at the weekends and get dressed up as various historical characters, one’s favourite being his treasured French Legionnaire’s outfit. Apparently, I was still the alarming one. This of course does not necessarily represent everybody’s feelings, but I do feel as if I’ve just told people I’m considering launching a remake of a Carry On film.

Most of the time I keep it simple and say I paint faces, and that doesn’t seem to embarrass people. I then find myself in a predicament where I feel I have to justify my actions and reasons for painting ladies without clothing. Sometimes my pictures are highly sexual in content, sometimes more romantic, political, sometimes silly and so forth. Although nobody feels the same way from one moment to the next, people on average do have varying themes they follow, or moods depending on their environment, so it’s difficult to explain how you feel about the images you create, because your attitude is constantly changing and evolving.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I wouldn’t approach the village gallery with my art, even though it’s well run, because I know they would probably come up with some awkward excuse not to display it. And I know they’d be right in saying that it wouldn’t go down well here. Online is a totally different matter: people write to me a lot, and seem to understand different stories I am telling through my work and see things that I know I feel when I paint, but wasn’t aware I was actually making them tangible to anyone else. There was however one customer who I invited to leave comments on my work, who started talking to one of the paintings as if she was a real woman, the comments were a bit lascivious for me- I’m happily married with three children.