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


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.

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.

Life is a work in progress

Work in progress, John Lyons (70 x 50 cm, oil on canvas)

Life is a work in progress

What we sometimes forget
           that there are many versions
many attempts to get it right
           many stages where we appear
to be getting nowhere and where
           in fact we are getting nowhere
there are setbacks
           and misunderstandings
and hurtful things can be said
           and done on both sides
so there is a time to forgive
           and a time to ask for forgiveness

This is my largest project to date
           seventy by fifty centimetres
and this is the second phase of under-painting
           over a jagged wash of 3 colours
a landscape in which you and I
           get to live out the rest of our days
in peace in harmony
           and in love

John Lyons


Matrix in yellow and umber

Matrix, John Lyons (20 x 20 cm oil on canvas)

Matrix in yellow and umber

The past is another country
           the under-painting obliterated
for better or worse
           I have moved on
and with the application
           of simple colours
I have created a matrix
           of sorts
large patches of cadmium yellow
           smaller patches of raw umber
on a background of thinly applied
           cadmium red diluted with liquin

I love the haphazard nature
           of moving paint
with a palette knife
           so capturing the moment
life as it is breathed
           and the motions quick
and almost automatic
           so that the hand obeys
the eye
           rather than the brain
these paintings may
           mean nothing
to the spectator
           but to me they are
distillations of my life
           and represent
at the same time
           fragments of discovery
of who I am
           of what my purpose is
and what constitutes love
           and very much more

John Lyons

What the shoes show


What the shoes show

This is Paris
           just before Bastille Day
in the flat where we stayed
           and these are our shoes
parked together at night
           my boots dusty
from our walk through
           the Jardins des Tuileries

This was the day you took me
           for a martini at the Ritz
the day we visited
           the Fondation Louis Vuitton
with its spectacular waterfall
           the day we rode the Ferris wheel
and I photographed you
           in your floral print dress
and we held hands
           and we were in love

John Lyons

Revised and corrected

Play upon the heart

Play upon the heart

The words of the poem
           play upon the mind
they say look up
           from the page
and notice all
           that is around you
take note of the detail
           the state of the world
local and at large
           and of those souls
who move back and forth
           upon its surface
look into their eyes
           and observe their gestures
listen to the qualities
           of their breath
what purpose
           are they about

The words of the poem
           play upon the heart
to love the world
           and those who live
around you
           be generous
in your judgment
           and with your love
because you will want
           to be loved in return
the hands of the clock
           on the cathedral tower
have not moved in years
           what is essential in life
is timeless just as love
           is endless

John Lyons