"Being an artist is very much like I imagine being an astronaut would be; discovering or rediscovering frontiers”: A Profile on Tyrus Lytton
by Travis Carr
Georgia-based artist Tyrus Lytton is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with; with works spanning the gamut from oil painting to mixed media, he both harkens back to Americana-inspired artists like Art Rosenbaum (who he cites as a main influence) and embraces a dynamism and inner truth that is completely unique. Pieces like Niche Competition (2010) and The Greatest Show on Earth (2011) recall a long-lost Godard film, while The Transformation of the Farmer’s Wife (2010) and She Never Knew She Never Knew (2008) are both ambiguous and beautiful in their indulgence of the grotesque. Lytton, who received his BFA in Painting from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia and is an MFA candidate at the Savannah College of Art and Design, has showed his art across the country including the recent Storyteller Exhibition at the Linda Matney Gallery. Despite a litany of upcoming projects, including an exhibition in Tokyo, Japan, he was able to talk with us about his work and his thoughts on the contemporary art scene:
When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
I remember being in elementary school wanting to be a fireman, astronaut, or an artist. I drew cartoons for the other students. Garfield, Batman, The Phantom, I would earn lunch money that way. In 5 grade there was a contest on the local radio station to win New Kids on the Block tickets for the best drawing of Batman. My friend wanted to get the tickets for his sister. He paid me $10 for a drawing and entered it into the contest. It won the tickets and he was so happy his sister could go to the concert. Being an artist is very much like I imagine being an astronaut would be; discovering or rediscovering frontiers. th
How did you get your start?
By picking up a pencil and made a picture. I was complimented and it released endorphins. I started by a pat on the back. The world can always utilize cheerleaders.
What are your main influences, and what inspires your pieces?
Everything inspires my pieces. My life goes into them. To be un-embarrassed, to let go of a truth (sometimes in a lie, the best are formulated from truth) is when my best work happens. My main influence … there are so many … I could list numerous proper nouns known to Art History, but I think my main personal, direct artistic influences are Art Rosenbaum, Craig McMillian, TL Lange, and Jeffery Whittle.
What was your education like?
Long. It never stops. As an artist I am continually learning. There is always a new material or a different aspect of a familiar material to observe. As an artist I need to be versed in all works of life; my art isn’t about art (although it is aware of art in an art historical sense) it is about understanding. To understand I need math, economics, geology, politics, athletics, philosophy … it is never ending. The challenge is to compartmentalize and make sense of it, either through paint or film.
What is your preferred medium?
I prefer to paint. It is immediate. I don’t have to worry about technology, file saving, codec recognition (at least in computer code), inhaling dust, and a thousand other reasons. The biggest is probably that I enjoy the challenges that simply one of our senses provides and trying to translate our other ones through it.
How do you approach new material?
Like a child. The first thing to do with any new material is to play. The most important thing to do is play. What is it we work for? We gain money and status sure, but I believe we work to play. I play to play. Someone once told me the reward for hard work is more hard work. My reward for play is more play. They are the same.
How did you first get involved with the Linda Matney Gallery?
I met Lee [Matney, owner and curator of the Linda Matney Gallery] through two mutual friends that curated my work into, I think, his second or third exhibition. It is unusual to find someone like Lee that is pleasurable to work with, an interesting personality, and takes a vested interest in their artists. I’ve been in multiple galleries up and down the east coast from Georgia to exhibiting in Brooklyn and Chelsea, New York. The people I’ve met in Williamsburg are on par with anywhere else in the world I’ve been and the art is the same as well.
What projects are you currently working on?
How much do I give away? I am working on a short film about an Appalachian hiker which is exciting and thoroughly frustrating. I am also creating drawings and paintings that deal with the animal world and human expectations, assumptions, and desires. I have also been invited to display work in the heart of Tokyo as part of the transit system.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to keep making work. I plan to continue exhibiting nationally and internationally and enrich my life with the various people I meet.
What are your thoughts on the state of the contemporary art scene/are there any artists currently working that excite you?
The contemporary art scene… is different than I thought it would be.
I think the internet changed how a lot of people view art. I’m sure people are tired of hearing/reading that but it’s true. Many artists work for free now. They don’t know it, but they do. Images pervade our daily lives. Advertisements are everywhere. They are even part of our entertainment. The contemporary art scene that I am familiar with is that many people think that they can create art, that nothing is wrong. Many galleries that kept a dialog alive have bowed out of the game. For the most part we are left with Blue Chip galleries or “alternative spaces”. Galleries braved the latest financial crises but it left a gap in the middle. The middle is disappearing… but I think it leaves room for new opportunity: provinces to be seized. They believe that post-modernism has freed them from critique and art from commerce. My critique of them is bitter, but to remain positive I’m sure they tell themselves they are happy. There are a lot of people doing shitty artwork and telling each other it is good. There are a few people that keep a relevant discourse going. It depends on the discourse the viewer desires of course. There are many that excite me. Some of their work does too. Mike Calway-Fagen is a great artist, many of my direct influences are still alive and I consider them all contemporary.