How chance encounters led to wide spread recognition of an artist’s talent
Besides talent and hard work, Justin Lyons’ success as an artist can also be attributed to serendipity. His story reads like a late-night movie or a best-selling book.
Lyons was in his late 20s when a friend, Jeremy Lynch (now a film maker in California), introduced him to wheatpasting in 2005. Combining paper, paint and drawings, wheatpasting is a type of street art that is affixed to public spaces using a mixture of flour, water and sugar. Painting on discarded wood, Lyons would hang his unsigned works all over Fort Walton Beach, FL, where he was living at the time. When they began disappearing, he assumed the city was taking them down.
He persevered though and one night, about eight months later, he was preparing to hang another piece of work when he ran into a restaurant owner in town. After noticing the painting in the back of his truck, she told him she had some of his other pieces hanging in her restaurant and asked if she could have this one as well. In return, she offered him not only a generous meal at the restaurant, but also the opportunity to show his work there. Three months later, with the help of Lynch, he did just that, and sold 15 of his 20 pieces.
A few years down the road, he got married and had kids, so making art for a living got put on hold. But, by 2012, he was once again painting heavily and showing his work at art fairs and local art shows. Soon, he was able to open a small studio and gallery in Santa Rosa Beach, FL, where he lives with his wife Kayla and children, Seven, Isla and Lynox.
Not too long after that, another chance meeting took place that would expand his reach greatly into the art world. A woman, on her way to dinner, was walking by his gallery when she ducked under the awning to get out of the rain. Liking what she saw through the window, she went inside and introduced herself as an art consultant in Miami. After looking around some more, she asked if she could show some of his paintings at Art Basel Miami. He said yes, and after that show in 2014, he was picked up by multiple galleries. His art career had taken off.
Over the years, Lyons has refined his style and does not consider himself a street artist anymore. Instead, he said, he’s a self-taught contemporary and expressionism artist.
What initially drew him to art in the first place was the self-expression aspect of it. “That was always my baseline, to paint things that are personal to me,” said Lyons. “My goal is to paint what I feel drawn to or something that makes a statement. I always liked the visual of simple, childlike art, but wanted to merge that imagery with something with a deeper meaning. So the visual is childlike, but the message is more intellectual.”
Common in his artwork are words and phrases that spring into his mind when he’s creating. Lyons will also often change his thoughts and then cross out words and replace some with others. Instead of covering them up and starting fresh, he likes leaving the changes showing.
“When I’m doing up layers, I’m writing things that are spontaneously in my head,” he said. “It’s an immediate thought, but then I might change my mind.”
As far as materials go, Lyons is open minded and uses what feels right at the time, whether it’s wood, acrylic, oil stick, spray paint, house paint, epoxy resin, or pencils.
“I’m just like anything goes; it’s more about the story than the sophistication of the paintings. I’m more interested in the deeper meanings of things and how they can make people question things or feel a certain way. The message aspect of it is what originally drew me to art.”
He does find people’s interpretations of his paintings interesting. “I’ve heard the gamut, honestly,” he said. “Some people are on the same page as I am. Others say, ‘Well, I get this from it,’ and, I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ I try not to say ‘Hey, this is what it is,’ or ‘I didn’t mean that,’ because I think it ruins it for people.”
When he first started out, a waitress who worked in the restaurant where his art was hanging called him in tears to let him know about the connection she had with one of his paintings and the way in which she interpreted it. Even though he didn’t see that message, he was glad it worked for her in her own personal way.
Atlanta residents will soon get to interpret Lyons’ art for themselves. He has a show at the Maune Contemporary gallery in April where he will display about 15 to 20 of his pieces. The gallery, which opened in September 2019, is owned by Ramsey and Heidi Maune.
“When they approached me to be represented by them, I was actually also being approached by a few other galleries in the area, and I was going back and forth to see where my best fit would be,” Lyons said. “When I walked into the Maune gallery and met Heidi and Ramsey, they were just the coolest people and their gallery space was beautiful.”
He went on to say that even though the other gallery owners were in the business a lot longer than the Maune’s, that wasn’t important to him. It was that he believed in their vision for their gallery and artists.
‘They’re awesome people who are just so nice and generous. They really believe in my work, and not only have shown it with words, but tangibly by being uber supportive,” he said.
Even though he has a few collectors in Atlanta, this will be his first show in the city, as well as in the state of Georgia.
“I’m excited; I love Atlanta,” he said. “It has a cool vibe to it, and I have a lot of friends in Atlanta.”
He said he will work with Heidi and Ramsey to determine the right pieces for the show.
“Location does matter, but the stuff that I make is more about storytelling, so I don’t try to box myself in with geographical locations,” he said. “I just try to make paintings that humans can relate to. Whether they’re white collar, blue collar or no collar, I just try to make art that people can make a connection with.”
When choosing paintings for a show, he also collaborates with his wife, who is also his business partner. He said that she helps run his business and knows the ins and outs of the industry. In addition to selling his pieces, Lyons also donates his artwork to local non-profit organizations and fundraisers.
“I’m constantly in my studio and I paint every day,” said Lyons. “I just like doing it and I’m so grateful and lucky that people have found my stuff.”
To learn more about Justin Lyons, his art, and the gallery, go to www.maune.com/ and jlyonsart.com/. And, be sure to visit Maune Contemporary gallery this April to see his work in person.