CHATHAM – For the second time, local artist Steve Lyons has had his work stolen while it was being transported in Europe.
Ten paintings and a found object sculpture were removed from a shipment from the Terramar Hotel in Sitges, Spain, where Lyons' work was being exhibited. The works were bound for Chatham, where several were due to be shown in two upcoming shows, including the artist's first exhibit in New York City. Two were later recovered in Paris.
Lyons said last week that his insurance company is working closely with European authorities to try to track down the art.
In 2014, $100,000 worth of Lyons' work was stolen just before his first international show in Freising, Germany. Two years later the work was recovered in a storage center outside Berlin following an investigation by the country's art theft investigators. It had been stolen by those hired to transport the art.
“People insinuate that it's a high compliment” to have his art stolen, Lyons said last week at his Main Street gallery. “Well, you can do without that kind of compliments.”
Lyons has gained attention in recent years for his abstract expressionist work and his use of the impasto technique, which involves applying paint to a canvas thickly so that it stands out from the surface. He was named a top artist to watch by Art Tour International magazine and his work won second place in the abstract expressionism category in the 2017 American Art Awards.
Several of the pieces stolen in Spain were due to be exhibit at a show at Iona College and in New York in October. One was a large water painting. “Twilight,” that can't be duplicated; Lyons said his water paintings have become very collectible and he's concerned this one will end up on the black market. All of the pieces that were stolen in Spain were registered with Interpol, he said, so they can't be sold publicly to collectors or museums. But there's a “huge” market for stolen art, which he learned all about when his work was stolen in Germany. He can't understand why someone would buy a stolen painting, however, because they would be unable to display it. It kind of defeats the purpose of having the work, he said.
Lyons considers another of the stolen paintings, “Spanish Woman,” the greatest loss in the incident. He credits the “gods of paint” with helping bring all the elements together to make this one of his best figurative expressionist works. If the painting isn't recovered before the upcoming exhibits, he will probably display a print of “Spanish Woman,” he said. The Iona College show, entitled “Women in the Abstract,” specifically focuses on his female figurative work.
Lyons has exhibited across Europe; the stolen works have previously been shown at the University of Madrid, where his was a guest lecturer. Shipping his work to far-flung places expands his visibility but he can't always guarantee its security.
“Artists have to take these risks in order to move their career forward,” said Lyons, who paints every day in his studio.
“You can attempt to copy an image, but nothing can duplicate the energy and magic that 'the gods of paint' deliver in creating the original,” he said.
It took two years to locate the paintings taken in Germany, so Lyons has hope that the recently stolen paintings will also be recovered.
“Maybe these will also show up,” he said.