Michael Lyons: The Age of Plastic

6 - 29 January 2022

Text written by Ingrid Lyons


The Age of Plastic is an exhibition of new works made primarily during the last two years, as a response to the heightened and persistent media exposure that we have undergone. Whether to keep each other safe and follow announcements regarding the global pandemic, or to bear witness to atrocities and devastation around the world, we are consuming news at heightened levels.  


It has been a time where we have also been limited in solitude or small groups, to contend with seismic shifts happening locally and globally. Our means of communal expression have been disrupted and the way we interact with the news has changed. New terminology like ‘doomscrolling’ reflects the increased consumption of predominantly negative news, which we often access on social media. Here it shares a platform with photographs of friends, their current projects, outfits or pastimes. It has become standard to encounter shocking images of death, chaos and destruction alongside quotidian updates of people’s day to day lives in their home environment.  


Communicating empathy, sorrow and regret have also been hindered by the limits of social media platforms, where a succinct remark underneath a shocking image might garner a few hundred ‘likes’, and this in turn can inadvertently transform an image of tragedy into a source of gratification.


Within his paintings and drawings, Lyons seeks ways of extending and broadening the way we respond to images of disaster. References to centres of learning and to players of the ancient game of Go or Weiqi, allude to a history of strategy, ingenuity and intuition. Lyons often uses found, gathered, discarded, cheaply acquired and ephemeral materials in the making of his work. In this way, he suggests that creativity and reasoning can be expressed through everyday items and humble materials. He demonstrates that throwaway items can be imbued with relevance and beauty in the process of conservation though artmaking.


In The Age of Plastic, Michael Lyons excavates epochal Renaissance works, endeavouring to glean an understanding of the depiction of the human condition in the history of painting. Much of this investigation centres on a consideration of Raphael’s School of Athens, the artist’s best-known work as well as one of the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. Within the architecture of the piece, the central figures of Plato and Aristotle inhabit an ancient world of dialogue, discussion, debate and conversation. A number of colourful works on paper also revisit Northern Renaissance masterpieces such as Peter Paul Rubens’, Massacre of the Innocents.


Lyons’ intentionally unresolved and loose mark-making creates space to observe parallels in the depiction of atrocities over the centuries. For example, we see children trampled underfoot as a struggle ensues and from this image, we might think about recent news reports describing an Israeli attack on Gaza where 260 Palestinians, including 66 children were killed. A large number of civilian structures such as schools, were also targeted during the final school year examinations, known in the region as, ‘Tawjihi’.


This series of works by Michael Lyons seeks to observe the perpetuation of histories in the context of media photography and historical paintings. It is an immersive meditation on complicity through the observation of images. The Age of Plastic is a lament that seeks to reach others through thinking about what we witness. It is about trying to slow down the way we look, in order to process what we see.