"I don't do art for art's sake: Art has to say something," says Cornelius Lyon, Jr. anextraordinary artist and man. Most art in New York City is "just visualization," he adds. You won't find his creations there--yet. The bulk of them are in his own outdoor "gallery" -- a unique sculpture garden, mostly consisting of abstract steel pieces, it's situated off of the Ridge Road near Horseheads.
More than 240 bold, imptressive, often flourescent-bright designs seem right at home beside natural white pines in a sprawling 30-acre forest. And The C Lyon -- as he is known -- has used just about everything imaginable to achieve his art: from cast iron to chains, from farm machinery to wagon wheels. Would you believe -- electric fans?Although he has a degree in English literature and once planned to become a writer, Lyon lost that drive. But he found something uniquely his own in a true marriage of a man and his art. A man who has traveled to art museums all over the world, he began doing his own sculptures in 1984. He started with "ground-hugging" pieces -- following the lead of an artist he admired who "stuck everything he did on the ground." It took about three years for him to break out of "building something, to be free to create a whole new visual invention."
Differences between the early and more recent works are quite apparent. The newer ones are more graceful, seem to "move" actually, beginning with the base. "I try to say things through motion and space," Lyon says. He uses circles as clocks in an intriguing way, with cryptic messages -- such as the time 8:15 to indicate the moment of nuclear explosions in Hiroshima. Themes like "good over evil also enter into the four-dimensional works: triangles (representing good) on top of missiles", for example. Wisdom triumphs over ignorance. Entrapment is another theme; hence, the use of chains, depicting various guises from financial traps to relationship traps. He puts mini-American flags on his pieces: "I'm very patriotic." He affably refers to some pieces as "divorce art". These depict the period when his ex-wife left him a single parent caring for their three children. The sculputes incorporate phrases or brief statements, like "We suffered."
Strolling through this unusual habitat Lyon literally "carved out" (his house and studio were also hand-built), one may be treated to a rendering of one of his own 500 folk songs. He accompanies on guitar while seated on a stump in a clearing midway through the 45-minute walk; later he offers refreshments, cheese and crackers, and responds to questions from visitors.
"In a museum in New York City, you get your reading -- such as poetry -- and your art, along with the reception. I do the same thing, only it's a one-man operation." But he feels that "I could put my most recent works next to paintings in New York City and not take a back seat to painting anymore."
Experimenting with color has involved sandblasting sculptures, filling them with fiberglass and sanding them down to perfectly smooth surfaces. Then he applies special paints and finishes -- including fluorescent paints that result in bright red, blue, green, pubple and pink. Viewed through the tree , some resemble the spectacular flora of an Amazon jungle.
The C Lyon's personal metamorphosis is as intriguing as his art. The Elmira native -- and first generation of his family to go to college -- quit factory work at age 19 (My foreman said, Believe me, there's a lot more to life than this factory!") and went into the Air Force. Stationed in the Orent, he discovered reading and avidly read every free moment. It seems fitting that he now teaches reading to pupils with Special Educaion needs at Watkins Glen Middle School. He worked at numerous jobs from paper hanger to dishwasher in order to get three degrees, including a masters from Elmira College. After the military service, Lyon decided to "make the most of my existence" and became an ardent believer in "divine puposes" ...He calls himself an "Irish-Catholic Buddhist."
His first book of poetry, "The Ballad of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Other Poems" has been added to libraries around the states -- published under The C Lyon, (one of a handful of pseutonyms many friends call hime "Ross").
Lyon receives about 100 visitors a year -- most coming to his garden in the fall -- on weekends, when he's not teaching or working a part-time job to pay for materials for his art. Meanwhile, he completes about one sculpture a week, season permitting. He comes closest to what he has longed to achieve in sculptures like his homage to John F. Kennedy -- "my only hero". Titled AWAKE, this stunning, vibrantly colorful work has "a lot of Buddha involved...as a message to humanity".
The C Lyon Sculpture Garden is open to visitors by appointment. Call (607) 594-2807.
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