Scott Lyall, self abuse, self critique, self defense: ode to shame, 2001

color photograph



For almost a decade, Scott Lyall’s work has steadfastly resisted coherent, analytical description and mechanical consumption. This resistance is partly due to his habit of periodically and speculatively shifting between a remarkably wide range of media and representational devices. The artist’s most recent solo exhibition represented yet another shift in practice—in this case from installation art toward work that is exclusively pictorial and computer-generated.

Fifteen photo-printed images (all works from ‘01) reference the unpredictable movements of the formless wax within a lava lamp. Each work contains an array of curved line segments—arranged using stock tools and brushes on the desktop—that is unrepeatable because of their random and unique origins. The viewer, however, would be better off unaware of the images‚ wax association, which, as an interpretive key, inhibits the opportunity to ruminate about their other myriad connotations.

The most successful works are larger (47 by 43 inches) and have greater visual complexity, combining a central, but not centered, ovoid motif with multi-hued layers of sinuous stripes and lines arranged on top of each other, often in a seemingly haphazard manner. The stripes tend to encircle the ovoid shape, but frequently pause, stutter, and shift direction before resuming their orbits. The thinner lines follow a less circular path, becoming arabesque doodles that roam more freely than the gravitational stripes.

Lyall’s extensive pictorial vocabulary yields surprisingly expressive painterly effects. In only the beat of a tiring drum, the predominating red central form resembles a hastily-applied graffiti tag, but its ephemeral nature is balanced by its absolutely flat and hard-edged execution. In self-abuse . . . , the emphatic outline of the large ovoid mingles with the pixelated, ghostly haze that surrounds it; the haze and partial background shading lend a remarkably atmospheric feel to a composition which tentatively suggests a cosmological context. In celebration . . . , a light blue cloud serves as a backdrop for a typically Canadian motif—the backs of three deep-red maple leaves, rendered schematically with black veins. The leaves appear to float above a palimpsest of striped bands and thinner lines, which chart many trajectories of the “lava,” or perhaps a missile, or anything else that comes to mind.

Rather than just an exercise in programming skill, Lyall’s imagery can and should be read as valuable attempts to explore a complicated site of dialogue between user and computer—a place that is not merely about the exchange of data, but that is prone to the sort of speculative thought-process and expressive possibilities that cannot be readily commodified.

Dan Adler

Brooklyn, New York