John Lyon Paul



Take a square. Within its confines draw a continuous, looping line. Fill the spaces with color. Create a world. Looking at John Lyon Paul’s paintings, we intuit a set of procedures and a language of form, but above all we glimpse the new worlds he conjures which distantly reflect our own. In his sculptures, the artist is deeply connected to the world we know, honoring our communal sense of both tragedy and hope. Paul creates sculptural devices that orient us to this axis of human experience.

Paul’s paintings are done on Mylar and on glass which gives them a fugitive quality, with the image forming and decaying before our eyes. Using acrylic paint and ink on the reverse side of the clear support, he employs a spectrum of painterly effects. The paint’s shifting densities reinforce the sense that we are looking through a window which holds the image and gives way to light which both illuminates and scours it.

Paul’s Studies on Mylar and Glass, the ongoing series of more than 50 works that he began in 2010, falls into three categories, beginning with imagined landscapes, with large forms that suggest gorges, rocky topography, and stormy skies. All of these can be read as visions of the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York, the artist’s home for more than 40 years. A second group of paintings employs a graphic X that implies an existential conundrum: a bold assertion of identity that at the same time aggressively negates. The third kind of paintings are complex works in which abstract forms start to resemble organic and geometric images in a small cosmos bounded by a gray border.

Paul’s sculptures, in contrast to his paintings, are rooted – in materiality, in a sense of mortality, and in spiritual aspiration. Made of hammered metal and carved wood, they take the form of prayer wheels, based on Buddhist models, reliefs, and freestanding works that use abstract organic and geological forms. The sculptures are true to their material origins and sober in tone, and suggest both the burden of human suffering and its release. In his large, publicly scaled pieces, Paul confronts nuclear destruction and the harrowing cost of political violence.

His sculptures’ qualities are complemented by those of his paintings: material construction and expressive touch, spiritual rigor and exuberant freedom, slow practice and quick realization. In these contrasting qualities we begin to understand that a kind of unity emerges, a way of understanding the whole of life.

– John Mendelsohn

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