Memory Believes Before Knowing Remembers: An Interview with Artist David Lyle

Written and Curated by Lilly Ball


artist david lyle

The past has a texture. The grain of old film, the gauze of old memories. Artist David Lyle’s hyperrealistic paintings capture the innocence and textures of American life during wartime, the 1950s and ’60s, a time when the Space Race was part of our collective consciousness, bourbon for lunch, cigarettes in hospitals, civil terror and inequality, innovations in machines built to kill. Lyle’s haunting works splice imagery from a strange, frantic time—so far removed from us it feels like it never happened at all—with contemporary pop culture references, creating a sort of visual narrative of time’s inexorable march. A coal minor stumbles upon some binary code, portly kids sit around an old console television and watch Homer choke his son. A hashtag is auctioned off. And if Albert, the first monkey in space, can accomplish such a feat (and suffocate to death in the process, in 1948), then why can’t he paint a Pollock?

Born 1971 in Okinawa, Japan, Lyle’s experience with this era is disconnected and purely spectatorial, what the German call Sehnsucht, or nostalgia for a place you’ve never been. It lies in the found snapshots culled from garage sales, flea markets, and junk drawers of friends and family. Photographs once home to fireplace mantels and stairway walls, now serve as a temporal bridge. His selections are carefully curated—in some ways, perhaps, sparking in the artist some muffled childhood memory of a news report or family photograph. By merging images from the worlds of yesteryear and today, he not only contextualizes the past, but the present as well. Turns out, they’re both ridiculous.


Your latest work, Everyone’s A Critic, recently shown at Lyons Wier Gallery in New York, literally paints history, predominantly America in the 1950’s-60s in a new, humorous light. Why did you choose this era?
I like to work with this era, because there is a certain innocence or ignorance of this time. Which makes it work well with modern day references that I add.


david lyle artist“Gold Rush,” (2011). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 26 x 36 inches.

david lyle artist“Twist of Fate,” (2013). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 112 x 132 centimeters.


Where do the original photographs come from?
I get my photo references in many different ways. A lot off of e bay, flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, etc. Sometimes people give me their family photos as well.


david lyle artist“If you see something, say something,” (2011). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 72 x 74 centimeters.

david lyle artist“Next item up for bid,” (2013). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 80 x 94 centimeters.


What do you hope to impart onto your audience in your work?
My paintings are satirical commentaries about things going on in and around my life. I hope people take what ever they can from it’s meaning and can relate it to things in their own lives.

How long was your family in Okinawa, Japan? Was your father stationed there?
I was born in Okinawa due to the fact I was a military brat.  My dad was a pilot in the Air Force so my family was stationed there for a while. I was only there for a little bit, maybe a year?


david lyle artist“Family TIme,” (2011). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 76 x 86 centimeters.

david lyle artist“Words of Wisdom,” (2011). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 59 x 71 centimeters.


Do you think graffiti is an art form outside of the proverbial canvas (museums, art collectors, etc)? If not, why?
Yes I do believe that graffiti is an art form. Living in New York I see it everywhere and I find most of it really beautiful and I love having it as a background in my life. Although sometimes when I see it in a gallery setting it does feel a little contained or forced to be something sellable. But It is great to see how far graffiti has come in the past few decades, creatively and accepted in society as a true art form.


david lyle artist“The Snitch,” (2012). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 91 x 91 centimeters.

dlthedealer_prd“The Dealer,” (2013). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 94 x 107 centimeters.


What makes an acceptable form of art?
This a tough question. I think that it is up to an individual to choose what they feel is an acceptable form of art.


david lyle artist“The Forgery,” (2014). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 91.4 x 96.5 centimeters.

The_Masterpiece“The Masterpiece,” (2014). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel. 76.2 x 96.5 centimeters.


Who do you look up to?
I really admire prolific people. Not just in art, but in life in general. There is so much talent out there in the world today, and I feel like the ones who stand out are those who are always working and pushing their work to further places.


david lyle artist“Art Appreciation,” (2014). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel.

david lyle artist“The Death of Photography,” (2014). Black oil and white gesso on wood panel.


Do you have future projects or exhibitions that we should know about?
Yes, I have quite a few future projects lined up. I have a show coming up in San Francisco in October and a few others later on in the year. I also like to keep new work available for all the art fairs during the year.

What are you going to do after this interview?
After this interview I am back to work as usual. I pretty much work all the time.


David Lyle lives and works in New York City. He earned a B.A. in studio painting from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. You can view more of his work at and follow him on Facebook and Instagram.


Lilly Ball joined FORTH Magazine as Art Director/Brand Manager in the Fall of 2014. She is interested in writing, people, and the forest.

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