Linda Infante Lyons
Artist Profile Story by Jamey Bradbury
In another era, Linda Infante Lyons might have set sail to Alaska with Captain Cook or Edward Harriman. With a sketchbook on her lap and a pencil in hand, she would have chronicled her ship's voyage and made the first drawings of mysterious new plant and animal life. "I was very interested at a young age in these scientist-artists," says Lyons, who found herself struggling to decide between studying science and art when she enrolled at Whitman College in Washington.
"Even Albert Einstein talked about art and science, and the mystery between the two."
After a childhood spent getting into trouble for drawing on walls and in schoolbooks, Lyons earned her biology degree, then took classes in scientific illustration. "I love it," she says about scientific drawings. "I could still go that way, but you can only do one thing. And to me, oil painting was that thing. With oil painting, I felt I could really express what I was seeing."
In her 30s, Lyons decided it was time to focus on her painting; she moved to Chile and studied art at the Viña del Mar School of Fine Arts, in a beach community not far from the Andes Mountains. "It wasn't very luxurious," Lyons recalls with a laugh. "We had our nude models for life drawing, but we had these little kerosene heaters to keep them warm. We'd have buckets to catch the dripping water from the rain."
It was here that Lyons found a community – not only among the young art students who painted alongside her, but with a group of artists from the past. "When I started painting, I painted in a vacuum," Lyons explains. "One day, I painted a self-portrait, and one of the students said: 'That looks just like Frida Kahlo!' And I said: 'Frida who?' "
So Lyons found herself researching magic realism, an aesthetic style she describes as "an emotional realism. It's not about how things are; it's about how you feel about them. It's painting an emotional landscape more than a realistic landscape. The idea is just to freeze a moment, so that the painting appears to be timeless."
Lyons' own work combines this sense of timelessness with the regionalist ideals of painting what is around the artist: what the artist sees, where the artist lives. She absorbs the Alaska landscape by hiking and biking, looking at clouds and water – storing those things away so they'll come out later in her paintings in a process that's more intuitive than planned.
"I may have an idea when I go to the canvas," Lyons says, "but as I start adding paint, I see things that need to be there, things that need to move around. Usually the painting ends up completely different from what I expected. Birds fly in, birds fly out, plants grow, they're erased. There's a lot of modification as I work."
She works on canvas or hardwood panels with oils in bright, saturated colors balanced by neutral tones, and her paintings evoke an Alaska landscape that is both familiar and other-worldly. Her occasional use of photography as a reference point has led to a second interest: Lyons' first solo photography show, The Lens Behind the Art, recently opened at the Out North Contemporary Art House.
"Photography is such immediate gratification," Lyons admits. "Painting is a long, painful process. You like a painting, you hate it, you drop it off at the gallery, you're not sure. But I'm not going to let photography take over the real process of sitting down and trying to create something out of nothing," she promises.
For her, photography is another link back to the artists of the 1930s and '40s. "When I was just starting to paint, I found this book by the photographer Karl Blossfeldt," says Lyons. "I couldn't take my eyes away from his work. Then, in my research, I find out that he was a part of a unique group of regionalists in that era. So, it wasn't necessarily that I was inspired by a particular artist, but I'm attached to a certain vision that I'm finding out about now. I'm finding kindred spirits in artists from the past."