The newest body of work being exhibited by photographer Gray Lyons in Rosenthal Gallery on the campus of Fayetteville State University is simultaneously physical and ethereal. Before reflecting on the meaning or reading the artist’s statement, I was compelled to “just be” with the work. The persistence of its material and immateriality evokes a state of transcendence.
The exhibit, titled Wavelength, includes nine cyanotypes (a process that dates back to the 1800s). Working in units, Lyon has created large-scale images of a female in states of an activity. We sense the graceful movement of the figure within the depth of an indigo blue space by the layering and effects of light. The scale of the work, measuring approximately 88”x 30,” contributes to the overall meaning.
In viewing Wavelength I was mindful of the variety of approaches a photographer can undertake in the medium. Yet Lyons selected this process and this subject. Are both a metaphor for something that is beyond the subject being captured, using the visible to reveal something invisible?
The artist stated the following: “My work addresses themes of memory, history and sexuality and self … images are narrative-based self-portraits, focusing on issues of identity. The photographs in this exhibit are an examination of the female body and the self. It is my intention to unify the functioning and experiential body and the remnants of the body’s story. Through investigating its surface and boundaries, I interrogate desire, compulsion, imagination, gender and ritual. These enactments are a way to understand an experience through the use of the body rather than the use of the mind — a physical resolution rather than an intellectual one … I seek to interpret and reframe these narratives, in an effort to expand the dialogue that surrounds the female body.”
In that the materiality of the process equally lends itself to meaning, Lyons was asked to explain the process. She stated: “The body is used as a photographic negative and is exposed directly onto the paper. The cyanotype is created by hand-coating a surface (in this case, paper) with a light-sensitive solution, then exposing the coated surface to the sun. An object resting on the coated surface blocks portions of the light, which creates an impression of the object. After the exposure, the image is washed with water, which makes it safe to be viewed in daylight conditions. This is an antique photographic process (circa 1840).”
The artist continued, “For this exhibition, I was interested in making images using primarily things that leave a visible trace on the paper, but do not have a clearly defined physical presence. To achieve this, I began exploring what effects a sudden rise in humidity, or a differently-timed water wash, or a change in temperature partway through an exposure would have on the resulting tones of the image. As someone who tends toward precision whenever possible, it was both terrifying and exhilarating to disrupt the tightly controlled, carefully timed and measured conditions under which I normally proceed, in order to achieve results that I could not predict or replicate.”
Wavelength is free and the public is invited to see the exhibition at Rosenthal Gallery until it closes on Feb. 18. In viewing Wavelength, visitors will be seeing a body of work by an artist who has earned degrees from Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Savannah College of Art and Design and Towson University. Her work has been exhibited and published nationally and internationally and can be found in the collections of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, the Siena Art Institute Library, the Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur and the Brauer Museum of Art. Ms. Lyons has been a visiting artist at the Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur, Georgetown College, Goucher College and other venues. Her studio is in South Bend, Indiana.
Rosenthal Gallery is open Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on the campus of Fayetteville State University. The public is also invited to attend a Skype session with the artist and FSU art students on Feb. 8 at 11 a.m. in the gallery. Please check the FSU Area of Art Website for information: http://www.uncfsu.edu/arts/visual-arts-home.