Sean-Kierre Lyons Lives (and Creates) In Dreams
Art Young Artists 2021

Sean-Kierre Lyons Lives (and Creates) In Dreams

The title of Sean-Kierre Lyons’s first solo exhibition show at Larrie, a gallery in New York City, carried a vernacular affirmative. “Mmhhmm” featured sewn plushies, reminiscent of psychedelic yet deranged children’s toys, that riff on various tropes, stereotypes and minstrel characters from Black folklore and the Antebellum South. The title, like much of their work, denotes not quite agreement or approval but rather sarcasm, play and a little bit of venom. In Lyons’s practice, the cute and the cuddly are pulled to extremes; they’re double-edged swords, ways to display the horrors of the racialized history of animation.

Lyons, who was born in Salinas, California, and raised in Brooklyn, where they live now, is self-taught. As a child, they drew cartoons and animals. “I honestly didn’t really think of art as a career,” they tell me, zooming from NYC with their dog Pulpouri. “I didn’t think of it as anything other than just kind of enjoying myself.”

Sean-Kierre Lyons works on a painting bound for MoMA PS1's "Greater New York 2021" show.

That kind of dewy-eyed fantasy remains something of a touch stone in their art today. In 2020, they had a solo exhibition of drawings at Fortnight Institute, “In Battle Petals Fall”, featuring their color-penciled “flower warriors,” bright and whimsical blackface figures with petals for hair, leaves for hands and machetes and jump ropes as accessories. “The work that I’m making now is just literally bringing dreams that were made or I had last year, but in a more tangible way,” they say. In other words, the flower warriors are coming to life. While working in drawing, performance art, textiles, painting, drawing and sculpture, Lyons lives in dreams. “I feel like all of the drawings and like all of the world that I’ve been building is just like a dream. It’s like consciousness.”

When I ask them about what surprises them about their work lately, they deflect into life itself. Life as art. Life as surprise: “The best surprises aren’t actually in the work—I mean, it’s still making the work—but the best surprises have been these like intense moments of observation that I feel like I’ve been having lately,” they explain contemplatively. "The other day, I sat and I stared at a rock for likean hour. And I was enamored by it.”