Liséa Lyons

San Francisco

at Marx & Zavattero


In one of Liséa Lyons’s 13 new untitled chromogenic prints, a seated young girl contemplates a birthday cake with lit candles on a colorful tablecloth. Her chin resting on her hands, slouchy posture and downcast eyes seem to be at odds with the spirit of the occasion. This 40-inch-square picture is perfectly balanced between a crisp, vibrant foreground and a dark and indistinct background, creating an elegant yet melancholy psychological atmosphere worthy of Vermeer.

It bears mentioning that the subject of this image is the artist’s 13-year-old daughter Ramona, who appears in five other similarly sized images (all works 2008 or ’09). But it is only one of two where she seems resigned to the camera’s scrutiny. Elsewhere she shies away from its gaze, as if trying to escape being boxed in and captured for posterity. We see her burying her face in a pillow; peering through a small window set in a door, her back to the viewer; and, in a diptych, lying on the grass, shielding her face from the sun and the camera.

All of these works explore the volatile fragility of early adolescence with a sensitive and sympathetic eye, and they are engaging for that reason. But their formal deftness is also remarkable, as is the richness of their pictorial nuance, which amplifies the psychological interest of the works without drifting into melodrama.

Titled “Lineage,” the show also included four smaller untitled images (each 15 inches square) of old family photos that Lyons re-photographed so that she could digitally exaggerate their graininess in a way that suggests the slow fading of memories. At first glance, the photos—shot in the humid swelter of northwest Florida in the early 1970s—seem like happy dreams, as the artist’s parents convey an awkward confidence about their start as a family. But nostalgia is only a small part of these works. More poignant is how they subtly reveal the bittersweet memories that conjure lost dreams.

Photo: Liséa Lyons: Untitled, 2009, C-print, 40 inches square; at Marx & Zavattero.