Self-manipulation

There's this trick he does with his hands. Classically trained and adept, Sean Lyman uses them to lure you into his existential miasma. We are told, via artist statement, that the images are self-portraits based on Lyman's identity development within the last year. Sean Lyman: Identity Crisis is on view at the Olive Gallery through Sept. 27 ([full event info][1]).True to our cultural metaphors, Lyman's search for self shape-shifts like Kafka's Gregor Samsa. It's a perplexing endeavor, and strange to see. Sheep heads, bouffant wigs, and an aggressively silenced male face confront us. The images get freakier still: we see the artist as an amputee prepared for chemical attack, a horse in alluring tank and panties, and a psychotic clown-or is it a man in pain? It's the sort of work that would alienate the viewer from both the artist and his images, yet Lyman manages to play a hand that brings you closer. Such is the subtle but powerful ability of skill. ![][2]These are conceptually teasing works. Pencil on paper, it would seem a straightforward tour through the alienated mind, yet the majority of the images have been manipulated further with bird shot and bullet holes. This is a tactic prone to gimmick, but Lyman pulls it off: he points out that the bird shot shells, although identical to each other, produce marks that are "aggressive and random." Indeed, the "trajectory of each bullet is what defines its individuality." Many of the images have been shot from behind, a statement to the belief that many of the trajectories that shape us are ones we don't see coming, as well as ones from the past.Sweet Dreams depicts a horse head on a woman's body, a playfully intimate figure that communicates it has a secret she is sharing with you alone. A finger to lips and legs slightly spread, it feels like a bedroom scene. The horse may be winking, but it's difficult to be sure: her left eye is missing, blown out from behind with a 9 mm round. It's more disconcerting to write about than to see. The hole comes across as manipulated texture, not paper violently attacked. There is no pain in the image, simply playfulness.The horse head is no doubt influenced by Lyman's interest in masks, which he collects. He explores the ways masks manipulate personal reality: "Once you have put on the mask, you can become or do or feel a whole new range of experience." A horse head transfigures a man into an inviting girlfriend; a sheep's mask becomes an affectionate dog owner. In 2 Moons and 3 Smokes, a gas mask transforms the artist into a more disarming figure, a female amputee relaxed and inviting in an underwater world. ![][3]Two images in the more traditional vein of self-portraiture, Tickle and Missouri, depict the artist's face. Both of these images are more violently distressed, thereby expressing an anxiety missing from the other drawings. Tickle is rendered on a large scale, a face flung back and missing a mouth. Unlike most of the other drawings, this image seems to have been shot from the front, the figure recoiling in anger or fear. There is a wildness to it-the intensity of the eyes, the wild hair of the beard and eyebrows. Interestingly, it is more straightforward and more disarming than the surrealist plays with sexuality and animal imagery.Likewise, Missouri is confrontational in its scale and assertion. The figure leers at you, his identity a bit ambiguous. Is this a clown? A scoffing man? The exaggerated eyebrows and mustache confuse his appearance. He is disconnected, drawn on separate sheets of paper. He has also been shot, this time right between the eyes, although the upper half (the paper behind) wasn't present during the shooting: it's clean and white as fresh snow.![][4]A softer, more comforting image is A Little Ishy, the beautifully rendered feet and legs of a female form. The bird shot has been deflected; it merely textures the drawing, adding a hushed feel to this stunning work. In an art world swooning to the easy whiz-bang of heady installation and big production, it's a pleasure to witness the quiet, disarming sublimity of Lyman's drawing and concept. [1]: http://www.lawrence.com/events/ongoing/14673/ [2]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/special/lyman4.jpg [3]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/special/lyman3.jpg [4]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/special/lyman2.jpg

Comments

lori 13 years, 3 months ago

Is there an official opening?

I'm glad your back!

leslie 13 years, 3 months ago

Glad to be back! The opening was last Saturday. Preview write-ups will be rare here. I prefer to see the entire show before writing about it, and most galleries are hanging clear to the last minute. The last thing they need is a pesky blogger poking around.

tomking 13 years, 3 months ago

Leslie: great stuff. Glad to see you focused on our shamelessly overlooked visual art scene--and Lyman's work is a great kick-off. He makes futuristic mementos--things you sense the age of even though they haven't happened. Nice debut.

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