Steve Lyons and Peter Demers each contributed their talents to the Steve Lyons Gallery that now honors their shared legacy.
“Partnership is not a posture, but a process—a continuous process that grows stronger each year as we devote ourselves to common tasks.” – John F. Kennedy
Where and how does an artist begin a life of creating? For some it seems hard-wired from birth, for others an influential event or moment might have spurned an irrepressible desire to create. For Steve Lyons, the beginnings of what ultimately became a career of creative production and influence, might have been considered far less auspicious than others.
“Steve started painting on scrap lumber when he lived in Provincetown years and years ago,” Gabriel Beaton, manager at the Steve Lyons Gallery on Main Street in Chatham explains. “It was an inexpensive, actually free, material but what he did with it really drew people in.” Lyons’ seascapes, small landscapes and abstracts set the stage for a technique that quickly became associated with his work, partially due to the rustic background provided by the discarded wood, and partially because of his unique, natural style: a textural viscosity. The works became known as “Momento Paintings,” a fitting title since they literally mark the moment Lyons listened to his creative voice.
After achieving success within the Provincetown art scene, in 2014 Lyons and his partner Peter Demers decided to put down roots in Chatham, not only for Steve to continue to create, but also as a way to connect his art, his vision and his creative spirit to a supportive and appreciative community. Demers, who had a successful career that included education, marketing, business development and publishing, applied his unique talents to the successful creation of a gallery to showcase Lyons’ prolific work. The pair, first partners in life, then partners in business, completed and complimented each other as their strengths and weaknesses combined for a strong collaboration and a successful addition to the Chatham business community. Demers was able to invest his well-honed business talents as he deftly responded to the public’s interest and passion for Lyons’ work and Lyons was able to indulge where his creativity naturally gravitated.
It is not a natural instinct for most artists to competently run a business and promote their art, all while listening to their creative muse. But this dynamic duo was a winning combination. As the foundation for the gallery was established, Lyons’ intrepid exploration of where his art could evolve not only pushed past the boundaries of traditional technique, but with each daring step Lyons took, Demers was able to provide the perfect stage for his work through gallery openings, receptions and exhibitions.
Lyons’ exploration into creating his work was based in acrylic paints on canvas, but for him, the energy he witnessed within his subjects was multi-dimensional. He achieved this effect through textural additions to his painted canvas. Utilizing a process known as impasto, Lyons’ sculptural painting would add depth and movement to certain portions of his work that truly allowed the image to leave the canvas and take on a lifelike quality. His experimentation with painting using poured resins achieved international acclaim for his abstract expressionism. Barriers and hesitations were quickly eschewed as Lyons fearlessly delved into where the process of creating might lead, despite the broken rules in his wake.
At the height, or at least during the steady rise of the success of the Steve Lyons Gallery, fate dealt a cruel blow to Lyons and Demers as Steve was diagnosed in March of 2020 with Glioblastoma, a deadly form of Brain Cancer. Peter, forever the organizer of solutions and fixer of problems, applied a rational approach to overcoming the obstacles at hand. In the middle of a pandemic, only several weeks after the gallery had re-opened under restrictive state mandates, a decision was made for Steve and Peter to temporarily re-locate to Southern California to enter treatment from a leading doctor at UCLA Medical Center. For as long as he was able, Steve continued to create and tried to maintain his prolific pace. Of course the challenges of working, healing and just living during a pandemic were always present. January this year confirmed that in case anyone was not paying attention to the cruel forces that had ravaged so many lives over the last year. Peter Demers, Steve Lyons’ advocate, champion, partner and executor of everything worth preserving in their shared life, contracted COVID-19. After a brave and valiant battle, Peter left Steve and the rest of the world when he died on January, 10th, 2021.
When a medi-vac flight was arranged for Steve from LA to Boston, his close friend, Jan Yankey, accompanied him and shared news of Peter’s passing with him. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the news registered with Steve but eventually it became evident that he understood and when asked about it, he said, “I’m devastated.”Steve’s move from California back to his home in Chatham set-up the final chapter of the mens’ journey when Steve ultimately lost his battle on March 21st at the age of 62.
As sad an ending as this story might have had, plans made and implemented by both Demers and Lyons prior to their illness have created a unique legacy, not only for Lyons’ creation (his art), but Demers’ masterpiece as well (the gallery). For over seven years, Steve Lyons has been grooming, teaching and sharing his creative process and inclination with a young protégé named Nick Heaney. Heaney, who was introduced to Lyons through his grandfather, has been working alongside Lyons, first as an apprentice and now as the finisher of reproductions of Lyons’ originals that are available through the gallery. Unlike Lyons, who was able to cognitively understand that his involvement in his future was unsure, Demers didn’t imagine a time when he was absent. Yet he unwittingly put things in motion to provide a continuum for the gallery when Gabriel Beaton, a friend of Lyons,’ took over day-to-day operations of the gallery when Demers started to care for Lyons. “Peter did much more than run this business. He was such a good neighbor and he made everyone around him feel special and important. His devotion to Steve as a partner, and as an artist, was profound. He was an example for all of us of how to be present in a relationship. You have no idea what will happen tomorrow, but you can definitely make today count, and Peter knew that,” Beaton shares.
Heaney also received sage advice from the man with his name on the door. “Steve told me, ‘Create. Create something every day,’” he remembers. For two individuals who built a life together—one who created everyday, and one who made sure each of those days counted—the art, the gallery and the legacy that is Steve Lyons Gallery in Chatham lives on.
Julie Craven Wagner is the editor of Cape Cod ART.
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