Rob Lyons, Temenos, installation view (image courtesy of Hales Gallery)
Temenos, the title of Rob Lyon’s debut solo show at Hales Gallery, is a Greek term used to describe land enclosed and consecrated to deity. Lyon’s manipulation of form is itself a type of temenos. He colours, patterns and arranges disparate shapes, painting vistas inspired by the South Downs of England. He grew up there and has in recent years returned to raise his own family. His work wrestles with the spirit of the place, its genius loci. The concept was first worked on by Paul Nash, who endeavoured to invoke in his paintings the irreducible, noemic significance of situation and dwelling. In much the same way, Lyon’s paintings comprise a lexicon of motifs which help to demarcate his memorised landscapes and, in Lyon’s words, ‘activate’ in the viewer a veritable sense of place.
Lyon’s application of form is a precise science, rather than a calculation of pliancy. Form is employed to tell stories. Spring, the show’s sextych, chronicles cyclical life, from its Genesis to its Iteration. Lyon’s signature salmon pinks and paling greens factor into vast wafers, pinstriped skies, broad, roving plains and elasticated arrowheads; that is, until the transgression of Spring, Exit, Tumuli (2023), the penultimate artwork of the series. Just as death is the aberrant of life, Lyon’s work of quietus is at stark odds with its livelier neighbours. Deep red undulating tumuli of varying indent are stacked atop one another with little indication of scenery beyond a unanimous pink background - yet, even in Lyon’s vision of death, a sense of place remains. We know those mounds and we know that sky. Throughout his oeuvre, Lyon has constructed a mythology of signification by exercising motifs. Painting in fluent, sparing shorthand permits us to read between the lines and ascertain what is and is not there. Of Spring, Exit, Tumuli, we perceive a landscape triumphing in its barest elements over a complete loss of life.
Many of the paintings in Temenos can be interpreted as hopeful consolations of death. Titles such as Resurgence (2023), Blue Ascension (2023) and Attenuate (Both Sides of the Mirror) (2023) are complemented by Till God Calls You Away (2023) and Lavant (2023). The former few call upon speculation of the Afterlife. The latter couple derive from Christendom (Lavant is a Sussex parish and river). Till God Calls You Away frames an orange cross breaching the plains of a hilly landscape, perturbing its winding, striped, and boldly demarcated topography. The cross is, ostensibly, the shadow of an aeroplane. The verticality of the composition, however, invites a Christlike ascension. A single bulbous cloud looms high above as Godhead. In Lavant, as in most of Lyon’s paintings, all forms - triangles, hills and stripes - surge and point towards the skies, or rather, the Heavens. It is hard to perceive the moving nature of these works as effected by anything other than some profound search for meaning both in and beyond death.
Rob Lyons, Temenos (2023). Installation images courtesy of Hales Gallery.
The show’s titular landscape is the sole occupant the gallery’s far wall. In Temenos (2023), Lyon paints an orbital, irislike shape - the psyche, perhaps - bound by a broad diamond. The cyan majority of the shape is of worn and worked texture. The upper part arches a fine, polychromatic pattern against grey. Its vivid environs are arranged in Lyon’s distinct winding, patchwork formation. The artwork conceives of the word temenos in its Jungian sense. That is, as an unpolluted, private space of cogitation and reflection, guarded from exterior influence. It is an idea of self-contained inner sanctuary. This, too, is the consummation of Lyon’s project, as, in this show he depicts the individual being in sharply demarcated symbiosis with the South Downs landscape. He generates a centre of solace within the spirit of the place: the quintessence of temenos.
Luke Ray is a writer based in London.