MITCH LYONS: CLAY MONOPRINTS
Mitch Lyons (born 1938) is a well-known and important part of the local art community, who over the past three decades has developed a truly innovative form of print-making. Lyons received his undergraduate degree in graphic design from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) and continued his studies at Tyler School of Art where he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in ceramics in 1971. Lyons worked as a traditional potter until 1980, the pivotal point in his career when he refined his method of printing directly from clay.
Lyons’ printing process is incredibly unique. The artist begins by wetting the stoneware clay slab he’s been using for the past 33 years. Imagery is created using fairly conventional ceramic decoration techniques. Lyons pours clay slips of various colors directly onto the surface and draws, paints, or cuts directly into the clay with a variety of traditional and unexpected tools—brushes, stencils, and cookie cutters. After framing the desired image with drywall tape, the artist pulls a thin layer of clay that is permanently embedded in the fibers of Reemay—a DuPont-engineered polyester fabric that Lyons prefers as his support. The distinct nature of the medium and technique ensures the uniqueness of each print.
Like most traditional potters, Lyons is motivated by a love for the material and describes himself as a “clay person making prints.” However instead of firing the clay to a permanent state, Lyons captures a lasting two-dimensional image of the clay’s surface. Chance is an inherent part of this technique, and it is here that one is reminded of surrealist automatic drawings and the incorporation of chance procedures embraced by artists, like John Cage, working in the 1950s. Lyons seeks to achieve a “balance between spontaneity and structure” and captures in his prints the sense of energy and intuition he embraces in the studio.
In 2012, the artist donated three clay monoprints to the Museum’s permanent collection. This generous gift illustrates the development of Lyons’ style and palette over the past three decades. The earliest work from the 1980s combines an interest in pastel hues with abstract, topographical imagery. A print from the 1990s references Minimalism and basic, geometric shapes associated with that artistic movement. In the last decade, Lyons expanded his imagery to include recognizable figures and a bolder palette. You can find one of Mitch Lyons’ clay monoprints on view in the Museum’s contemporary art gallery, Gallery 17, through September 1.
Associate Curator for Contemporary Art
This Curator Corner was posted on June 26, 2013.