Jeff Lyons, it could be said, has a lot of girlfriends. The pop artist is standing in the middle of his southwest Calgary apartment studio surrounded by a series of sweet-smiling, doe eyed young women with fabulous hair. That the girls - whose names range from Oksana to Amber to Paloma - are colorful, cartoon style oil paintings isn't really the point with Lyons. To the 38 year old creator of the Girlfriend series, these women have taken on a life of their own. "There's a point on the canvas when their looking at me and they come to life and they speak to me," says Lyons, whose influences range from Picasso to Art Deco to cartoonist Charles M. Schultz. "It's like 'Hi, Jeff. My name is so and so.' Anyway, I hang them up on my walls and I never feel alone."
His studio: After 16 years of painting, the Edmonton-born Lyons is finally able to make a living from his art. Which means that only now ( he moved into his new digs last week) can he afford an apartment with extra studio space. "My last apartment was so small that I had to paint in the kitchen. It was difficult. I never invited my clients in. it was embarrassing. Thing stacked up everywhere and my home became a closet. It closed in on me. "My goal since day one has been to be self-sufficient." His studio, a simple room with gray walls, is orderly and clean. Impressive selections from the Girlfriends series (on display at the Arden diner on 17th ave s.w.) neatly line the walls and floor. His paintings are distinctly eye-catching. "I don't want to do quiet little pieces that disappear on the wall. I want my work to be positive and playful. A lot of artists are very serious about their work. I think 'Why not be humorous about it?' It's all part of the human condition." Some of Lyons' friends inquire as to why, if he enjoys painting women so much, he doesn't try doing nudes. "Character is so important to me. It's the personality that is critical. I'm not interested in objectifying women."
Favorite studio object: "Definitely my easel, even though I don't paint so much on it anymore," says Lyons - referencing the tall, paint-splattered wooden prop in the middle of the room. These days he prefers to paint while sitting on the canvas covered floor. "The easel is a lineage thing. It keeps me connected to the past. It was a Christmas gift from my parents. "At the time they were convinced that my painting was going to be a hobby. Now they know that it is a business and I am OK."
The zone: "When I walk into my studio it puts me into the zone." He recalls being a loner when he was a boy - preferring to stay in his bedroom and draw, create homemade magazines (which he sold for 25 cents to schoolmates) and get lost in imaginary worlds. "I'm in the same headspace when I did cartoons as a seven year old. My world then was more relevant than the reality around me."
A pop artist in Calgary: "Right now, everything I'm doing is around custom portraits," says Lyons, whose clients supply him with photographs from which he creates a "pop art portrait." He charges 450.00 per painting. "I've never had a workload like this or produced at this rate. I'm doing one or two paintings every two or three days." One third of his commissions come from the internet, many American in origin. "I've got clients in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Georgia and Texas." His paintings, he says, aren't what people might expect from a Calgary artist.
Viewers of his work often say his style looks like something out of San Francisco or New York. He smiles, acknowledging he doesn't mind the comparison. "What I do is not horses, grain elevators or the Rocky Mountains or cowboys. But I don't think this nature thing really represents Calgarians. Most of us aren't cowboys." This city, he insists, doesn't have a contemporary identity. "I'm presenting an alternative. I'm catering to those who want to see something different. I just do what I do. It's something consistent with me."