Layers of love

Troubled waters, John Lyons (20 x 30 cm, oil on canvas)

Layers of love

Snow fell as they tramped 
through the empty streets
of Berlin

What was in their hearts
protected them

from the bitter cold

And as they passed hand in hand
beneath the Brandenberg Gate 
they felt invincible 

Life is often what lies beneath
a landscape in which
layers of love
have been laid to rest 

John Lyons

Revised, with new orientation of canvas.

The heart that beats

The heart that beats

Whichever way we look at it
           our lives begin with a scar
when we are cut free
           from our mothers
and must henceforth
           fend for ourselves
and in the course of our lives
           many of us accrue other scars

From the darkness of the womb
           we go out into the light
and we take hesitant steps
           until we find ourselves
The brightness at the heart
           of this painting emanates
from the primary colours
           and they represent the joy
I am experiencing
           at this stage of my existence

The surface of the canvas
           bears the evidence of scars
and there are areas
           shrouded in darkness
but at its heart
           what shines forth
is the affirmative light
           and a love of life

John Lyons

A child into the world

A child into the world

A failed painting
           can often be resuscitated
and that’s where the art lies :
           one has to examine the dead canvas
and imagine how one can
           breathe some sort of life into it
That’s why so many artists
           are reluctant to let their work
leave the studio
           they need to be certain
that what they have created
           will have an existence all of its own
that it will stand the test of time
           and require no explanation
or props to keep it alive
           Just as one would not want to send
one’s children out into the world
           vulnerable or defenceless
it’s an act of love
           towards one’s creation

John Lyons

The beating heart

The beating heart

Certain terms
make me smile
action painting
for example

Every painting
ever done
is the result
of a series of actions

word and deed
—and painting
is a language

Robert Motherwell
a highly literate artist
that he preferred
to see
rather than read

But what could he
possibly see
without reading
the language
in which
it was written ?

is feeling
the integrity of feeling
: it comes through
in the radiance
of light

John Lyons

Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) was one of the youngest of the New York School, which also included Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. This poem draws on a reading of The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell, edited by Stephanie Terenzio.

Loafing in the woods

specimen days

Loafing in the woods

I write this down
           in the country again
in a new spot
           seated on a log
in the woods
           warm sunny midday

Have been loafing here
           deep among the trees
shafts of tall pines
           oak and hickory
with a thick undergrowth
           of laurels and grapevines
the ground covered by debris
           dead leaves
everything solitary
           ancient and grim

I hear the wind
           through the pine-tops
I sit and listen
           long long
to its hoarse sighing
           above the stillness
blue-birds robins
           and meadow-larks
begin to appear
           all the senses
sight sound smell
           delicately gratified

John Lyons

(adapted from Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days)

St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey

Inverted matrix, JohnLyons (20 x 20 cm oil on canvas)

St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey

The poet knew
           that true love
is indissoluble
           neither can it
be faked

Wild flowers
           and vines and weeds
come up through
           the headstones
that line the boundary wall
           in the grounds
of St Mary Magdalen
           in Bermondsey Street

The names engraved
           on these sandstone markers
long gone to dust
           and dead words hang
in the silence

What of the murmur
           of dreams
what of the curious
           systole and diastole
the beating and pounding
           of blood in the veins
what of the cries
           and the laughter
the husky pantings
           of these lovers
now laid to rest ?

The poet knows
           in the senses of his body
and in every limb
           and in every breath
that love
           is the pulse of life

John Lyons

The matrix painting may be hung in any of its four orientations. See Matrix in yellow and umber

Light sensitivities

getting there
Getting there, John Lyons (70 x 50 cm oil on canvas)

Light sensitivities

Yesterday glorious sunshine :
           my son and I sat in the garden
all afternoon and cooked chicken
           on the barbecue
I brought my canvas out briefly
           and laid it on a table
added some flourishes
           of greens and yellows and reds

At its heart
           the golden triangle is preserved
also the city skyline running
           along the bottom edge
This morning I noticed
           that as the paint is drying
some of the colours have dulled down
           where there was sunshine
the composition is a little overcast
           Outside it has just begun to rain
and I realise that my canvas
           is sensitive to the weather
I’m also aware that my best work
           was done when we were in love

John Lyons


It goes without saying that the photos accompanying these poems give an approximate representation. A professional photographer would be better able to capture the vibrancy of the colours.