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Christiane Lyons: Not Entirely Human

Christiane Lyons’ painting practice is driven by an ongoing investigation into the cognitive and non-linguistic processes used in interpreting imagery. Primarily using paint as a medium, she recontextualizes appropriated imagery to provoke new meanings and visual interpretations. Confronting the primary elements of paint, such as line and form, representation and abstraction, and color, Lyons addresses painting’s continued importance today.

In Christiane Lyons’ current ongoing series, Some Women,she explores, by distorting the female body, the cycle of women’s objectification throughout art history and culture while at the same time, attempts to break this cycle by imbuing the figures with subjectivity. This distortion manifests by using found images of multiple women’s bodies to create one female figure in each painting. She appropriates from image searches, culling material from social media to fashion photography, because she believes these representations of women have a universal reach to women worldwide, from all cultures and of all ages.


Christane Lyons’ practice is influenced by her education and its subsequent opportunities. At UC Berkeley she studied with art historians T.J. Clark and Hal Foster. While at UCLA, working with artists John Baldessari and Elizabeth Peyton she cemented her works’ conceptual approach to figurative painting. In addition, Lyons absorbs a range of influences from Francisco Goya and Marlene Dumas to Romanesque and Surrealism.

Christiane Lyons lives and works in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. She received her BA from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000 and her MFA from University of California, Los Angeles in 2004. She has been represented by Los Angeles gallery, Meliksetian|Briggs since 2012.

1. Which would you say you are? A figurative or an abstract painter? Or maybe both?

I consider myself a figurative painter. I have been painting the figure in some form for many years, though they may not have always been entirely human.

2. In your work, where do you draw a line between abstraction and figuration?

I believe abstraction is apparent in my work when the paint’s materiality resembles itself the most; when it is at that point, when it pulls between representing “something” and simply being its gorgeous red cadmium self.

3. In your own opinion, where does figurative art stand in today’s contemporary world?

It definitely seems to be on an upswing in today’s art market. However, I do believe there will always be a place for it in the art world whether it’s currently trending or not.

4. Tell us about your process of painting. What influences you?

My process starts by culling images primarily from the internet using key words that relate to my subject matter. Then I create an image, or maquette, in Photoshop that is comprised of multiple layers of said found imagery. I refer to these maquettes once I start painting, often experimenting on paper and smaller canvases before I begin, what I hope will be, the final piece.

5. If you had to choose, throughout history, which period in time has the most relevance to you and your painting?

Late nineteenth to early twentieth century European and especially French painting. I have always been personally drawn to this time period and was also lucky enough to study with T.J. Clark while at UC Berkeley, who helped me see that it was in this period when artists started to paint and express commentary on the world around them. I still believe that this is an important role for artists to play and I try to achieve this with my own work.

6. Is your work in any sense political?

If reflection on one’s current culture may be considered political, then yes.

7. Tell us about color. Some of your pallets are very bright. But in the recent paintings, I see a little more delicate shift in pallet color. What’s your view and perception of color?


8. The portraits you paint. Are they based on random photographs or carefully selected images? Do you know the people in these portraits?

They are based on random images found through more specific image searches. For example I might do a search with key words such as “woman lying down odalisque color.” I try to relate my key words to how women have typically been represented in art history and our visual culture. I intentionally use people I do not know. I try to imbue the women I create in my work with their own subjectivity.