Remembering artist Ellen Lanyon
Well-respected artist Ellen Lanyon, born and raised in Chicago and based in New York, died Monday of a heart attack. She was 86 years old. The former SAIC instructor, painter, printmaker and champion of many causes—artistic, feminist and otherwise—specialized in surrealist, collage-based works featuring flora, fauna and assorted curios. An active and engaged member of arts communities in both Chicago and New York, Lanyon never retired from her practice or advocacy work.
We wrote about Lanyon many times over the years. Whether naming her Riverwalk Gateway mural, at Lake Shore Dr and Wacker, one of our favorite public artworks, or reviewing her exhibitions in some of our earliest issues, TOC kept a close eye on her long and luminous career. A few highlights:
"More Strange Games" at Printworks, April 2005 Containing two different series of works on paper, this exhibition highlighted Lanyon's signature "realistic renderings of fish and fowl in fantastical settings." But for this show, the then 80-year-old artist appeared to be reacting to present-day technology. "It’s not clear what Lanyon is mourning with these visual elegies," wrote former TOC art critic Ruth Lopez. "But that doesn’t make these prints any less striking. And isn’t life, at all stages, more interesting with a little mystery?"
"At the Sign of the Hat" at Valerie Carberry Gallery, Sept 2008 Lauren Weinberg, former TOC art and design editor, reviewed paintings by Lanyon incorporating magician's tools—bunnies, top hats—that linked "women's domestic wizardy" to a peaceful family life. "Working when women’s lib faced more obstacles, Lanyon here seems to suggest that the implied housewives are 'lovely assistants' instead of the ones running the show," she wrote. Newer works on display featured an overwhelming abundance of colors and forms, but Weinberg found them to be appealingly rendered "cabinets of wonders."
"Index Extended" at Printworks, May 2011 Critic Candice Webber also saw beauty in Lanyon's details, noting that the artist's print-based collages are a reflection of "her taste for the weird and slightly gruesome…and yet she uses this oddball ephemera to construct some truly beautiful Surrealist scenes."
"10 best art & design shows of 2011 in no particular order," Dec 2011 Weinberg included "Luminous Ground," a group show at the Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery, on her 2011 year-end best list: "Works by Ellen Lanyon, Ralph Arnold and nine other Chicago artists whose careers span at least 50 years reminded viewers that our obsession with youth is misguided."