Interview with Andrea Lyons
Commissioned to do a series of paintings this summer in and around the village of Carversville, artist Andrea Lyons works are on display now at the Carversville Grocery. Andrea Lyons trained in art at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Tyler School of Art and has won awards for her work including a Leeway Foundation grant in painting for women in the arts in 2000 where she was awarded $15,000. Ms. Lyons has painted everything from large public murals to abstract paintings that she describes as being “about the home and the materials that are symbolic of it.” In this interview Andrea Lyons speaks with Max Hansen Caterer’s Philip Stephano about her life in art and how she recently came to discover the village of Carversville.
PS: Are you from this area originally? Where did you come up?
AL: I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and I that's where I live now. My cousin lives in [Bucks County] and he's always at Max Hansen's store so he told me about the store and suggested that I come by there with my work. I had been commissioned to to a series of paintings this summer featuring the Carversville Inn and Max Hansen Carversville Grocery. I took one of the drawings of the store and made it into cards and then I presented the cards to Max and Andrea and they decided to display them and sell them. Then they asked me about doing a show and that's how this came about.
PS: You studied in Philadelphia at the The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts?
AL: Right. I got my Masters degree in painting there and I got a Bachelors from Tyler School of Art in printmaking.
PS: What I'm seeing at the store is very painterly; it looks like oils and watercolors with fairly loose strokes. Is this a new art form for you or have you always done painting?
AL: I started out in drawing and printmaking. Then I took up painting when I couldn't get access to a printing press. I took up painting. I was still in my twenties then and I've been painting ever since. I've done some painting. I've done some murals around Philadelphia and other types of paintings.
PS: That's interesting. Can you talk a little bit about the murals and how you see the meaning they have for the community?
AL: Many years ago, before Mural Arts came into existence, I did a mural for Bain's Deli and Restaurant which was, at that time, in Suburban Square in Ardmore in the western suburbs of Philadelphia.That's what started my murals. I did one for Bain's (and it was huge!) It took up the whole side of the street. You could see it from the window as you were going down Montgomery Ave.
Many years after that I was on 4th Street on Fabric Row. I was buying some fabric and I was asking the guy about the history of the store there because my mural for Bain had been on 4th and South. It was where the first Bain's restaurant was. So he was telling me about it and I mentioned that I do murals. He asked me if I could do a mural for them on the side of their building for a store called Maxie's Daughter (which still exists). If you go to fabric row off Fourth and Monroe Street you can see that mural. It still exists! It's across the street from Essene, the natural food store.
While I was there, I was painting the mural and I enjoyed that part of the city so much that I decided to move into the building! There was an apartment that became available. So I lived there for a while. I did some other murals. I worked for Mural Arts program and I did some murals for the city- one in West Philadelphia, one in Northeast Philadelphia at the Jardel Playground which was the subject of a documentary on public reaction to public art. The mural got whitewashed. While I was there there were people that came by that said to me, "are those figures African American?" (They used another term) "Are they black or white? " I said, "it doesn't really matter what they are. They are supposed to represent swimmers in a swimming pool." So they said, "if you don't whiten up those swimmers we're going to whitewash that mural." Well I didn't really think they'd do it and so I continued painting. When I was finished they whitewashed the mural. It was the subject of a documentary. For that I got a lot of publicity! (laughing) But it was negative, you know. That wasn't so cool.
PS: How do you translate yourself from those big public murals to what seem to be intimate paintings of landscapes and places?
AL: Well I've been multi-faceted with my art. I've done a really diverse kind of work going from abstracts to sculptural shaped canvases and paintings and all different types of figurative work and different types of work. I just do what I like to do and that's all. I don't really pay attention to if it's the "same type of work" like you're supposed to for galleries (laughing). You’re supposed to do a consistent body of work and I don't really do that. But I do enough landscaping painting because I love working outdoors. I do enough landscaping painting that I have a pretty consistent body of work for the show.
PS: What landscapes attract you locally and elsewhere?
AL: I like hills and I love trees. I try to do that in my landscapes. I don't really get into flowers that much (although I have done some flowers).
PS: Are you painting outdoors or indoors from memory?
AL: I mostly paint outdoors. I mostly do plein air painting. I take my portable easel and wear a hat for the sun!! I love being outside. There are some occasions when I can't do that, when I have to take a photograph and paint indoors. Some of the work that's at the Carversville Grocery is from photographs but most of it is from outside.
PS: Is Bucks County a place that you particularly enjoy painting?
AL: It is a place where I enjoy painting. I discover it every time I go up there. If I'm in an area like Peace Valley Park there are some beautiful spots along the way. Sometimes I just see a spot from the road and I stop and take my easel out and start painting. I know you're supposed to ask people if you can paint there but I don't always do that!
PS: Can we talk a little bit about color? I'm curious to see how color has worked thematically through the printing, the murals, the oil paintings and even the water colors. How does color affect you?
AL: I love color. I initially started out in black and white when I was a printmaker. I started to learn about color when I took up fabric design. I took a course in fabric design and we had to learn about all the different color waves and I would do a pattern in more than one type of color scheme... Of course when I was at Tyler I had this teacher, Richard Cramer, who taught me watercolor in the summertime. I learned a lot from him about color. My other work that I do...that's a shaped piece of wood with someone walking on the beach with water.a There is a lot more work that I do that is similar to that. Some of it is abstract too. Those paintings I often take the grain of the wood and I emphasize the grain of the wood. Sometimes I take complementary colors and I use them in different ways with the grains of wood.
PS: I would like to ask you about line. If you started in printmaking that is very line oriented and now you've branched out to things that are expressive and free from line. Do you have any observations about that?
AL: Line for me works with the kind action I put into it. The activity, the movements that I'm using with my body while I'm painting works in with the lines. So if you see this one print that has a white frame and it's up on the wall. It's called "Long Way Home". It's got a lot of activity, line and motion. It almost feels like finger painting but it's not.
PS: So line is in your actual movement....It's physical and kinetic, not just an idea.