To coinsided with the reopening of Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden we are exhibiting a selection of Michael Lyon's smaller works in the Orangery.
Michael Lyons (1943–2019) was born in Bilston, Staffordshire. As a youth, he trained for Roman Catholic priesthood, then attended Wolverhampton College of Art and Hornsey College of Art before studying at the University of Newcastle. Lyons gained recognition in the 1960s with his inclusion in exhibitions such as the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Young Contemporaries and the Whitworth Gallery’s Northern Young Contemporaries, and by the 1970s, he had solidified his reputation as one of the finest steel sculptors of his generation.
In contrast to the tendency for artists to relocate to more popular cities like London, Lyons continued to live and work in Yorkshire and forged a successful career from his non-metropolitan base, consistently maintaining a connection with the land. Growing up in the West Midlands, the post-industrial landscape of the Black Country along with his strong Catholic upbringing and his later interest in mythology and cosmology, had an undeniable influence on his life’s work. His sculptures command attention in relation to their landscape and, whilst rigid in medium, recognise the powers of nature and ritual. For the painter and writer John Clark, Lyons’ dedication to his landscape distinguished him from the more architectural sculpture of Anthony Caro’s students at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, declaring it to be a ‘romantic and expressionist reaction to nature’.
Lyons’ work ranges from steel constructions to organic bronzes; and from small and medium pieces to monumental public works. Steel was arguably his master medium - cut, bent and folded in a direct and almost organic manner and exploitative of the way in which light brings its metallic surface to life; lines are created by the cut edge of the metal or by folds in its planes. The formal strength of Lyons’s sculptures is supplemented by references to many sources including landscape, natural forces, art history and mythology, showing a sensitivity to place and time.
Lyons’ fundamental belief in man’s connection with the surrounding landscape in which he lives, led him to have an instrumental role in the founding of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The ability to produce sculpture in the outdoors provided Lyons with, in his own words, ‘the freedom to cut metal and smoke cigars’. Lyons spent much of his career teaching at numerous art colleges, both in the UK and internationally, and took up the position of Head of Sculpture at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Fine Art department in 1989. Teaching stints in China, Canada and the USA – places where he once again found a deep affinity for the landscape – greatly influenced his practice. Similarly, residencies in Mexico, Germany, Turkey and Cyprus resulted in Lyons producing large-scale works which speak to the cultural and sculptural traditions of their respective countries.
From 1994 to 1997, Lyons served as the Vice-President of the Royal British Society of Sculptors. The long-standing rapports which Lyons built with the countries he visited is evidenced by his various accolades, including first prize at the 2003 Guilin Yuzi Paradise International Sculpture Awards in China and the Premio Fondo Nacional del las Artes at the 2006 Chaco Biennial of Sculpture in Argentina, and commissions, notably his Voice of the Mountain: Sudden Storm for the Shanghai Sculpture Park. Today, Lyons’ work is held in both private and public collections, including those of the Arts Council, the Hepworth Wakefield, the Henry Moore Institute and the Yale Centre for British Art.
Willoughby Gerrish Ltd represents the estate of Michael Lyons.