The Living Art of Dena Lyons

Cindy Clark

With homes in two of the most glamorous seaside playgrounds in the world, artist Dena Lyons is not only living the life, she’s reinventing it for those of us who, dare I admit it, literally dream of being her. Born and raised in south Florida, Dena favors places where foliage and flowers bloom all year round, reveling in colorful landscapes that blanket her surroundings and ultimately pose for her painted canvases.

“I love color and everything colorful,” she told me, sharing that she got her hands wet in preschool as a prolific two-year-old finger painter. “It was my favorite activity.”

She painted throughout her elementary and middle school years, graduating from finger painting to working in pastels, oils, watercolors and, for a time, ceramics. Her talent was her ticket to Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Palm Beach, and later the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago, consistently ranked among the top ten art and design schools in the world. It also earned her a Merit Scholarship to the Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing in Aix-en-Provence.

The artist Paul Cézanne put Aix on the map in the early 20th century when he painted the town and the landscapes around fabled Mont Sainte-Victoire in the post-Impressionistic style that launched a movement. Taking his easel outside where the ever-changing light in Provence provided fertile ground for creative exploration, his paintings merged nature and memory to create colorful sensations that conveyed emotion, meaning and movement. Similarly, Vincent van Gogh, found his inspiration in southern France, expressing his talent in bold colors that blossom in brilliant strokes.

FIERY MAPLE, oil and wax on canvas, 72″ x 72″ – Dena Lyons

Which is a lot like Dena’s living art. A tantalizing tableau of floral finery, her work takes shape in trees, plants and flowering gardens that whisper timeless sentiments, uniquely fresh and forever young and vibrant.

“I was a 19-year-old college student on a summer art scholarship the first time I visited Provence. Van Gogh was definitely a huge influence for me, as are other Impressionist artists as far as their use of color goes,” she remembers.

She returned to France after her graduation from college, bought a van and spent five years painting the countryside before moving back to Chicago for a time. But France had cast its spell on her, eventually leading her to Monaco, where she has lived for the past 11 years.

“It is very safe and beautiful in the French villages in the south of France, with magnificent old villas and hand-tiled building facades that inspire the artist in me. I painted these historic places when I first came to France, eventually garnering attention from the media and locals who thanked me for ‘saving their patrimony.’ At the time, developers were knocking down the old buildings to put up modern skyscrapers and people were commissioning me to paint their families and villas before they were gone. I kept returning to France from Chicago for these projects, eventually deciding to move here,” she told me.

RUE de GIROFLÉE, oil and wax on Canvas – by Dena Lyons

“Before long, I became intrigued by all the tile murals that were on the buildings I was painting. Some were more like frescoes really and I was fascinated by one in particular that caught my eye because of the floral arboreal elements it depicted. The next thing I knew, I was drawn to a beautiful cherry tree and other blossoming trees and I soon started to paint trees instead of buildings.”

Those floral images proved to be a career catalyst for Dena, as she traded buildings for buds and tiles for trees and screened them on fabrics for her signature line of wonderfully wearable art.

“My portraits of trees and flowers are like dancers in a way,” she explained. “You can almost see them moving. They are very much alive.”

Looking at one of her scarves, designed to drape you in nature’s embrace, I could also smell the fresh fragrances, lemon in particular, that permeated the landscapes in Provence.

 

FIERY, silk caftan – Dena Lyons

“I think that’s the point of art. When you create a painting, you create a sensation. Smell, temperature, the feel of the wind, the heat, the sun, they’re all here. There’s a lot of sunshine in my paintings,” she said. “The light is fantastic here. You get those beautiful colors and I really relate to them. Each of us has an internal color palette. My palette is definitely that of the south of France.”

Like the Impressionist painters enamored with this part of the world, Dena spends a lot of time outdoors, blissfully taking in the scenic treasures of her Monaco home. She enjoys plein air painting, although she has been working indoors of late to prevent her human-sized, large-scale canvases, measuring some 6 feet tall, from blowing away into the Mediterranean Sea.

“I live atop a large hill above Monaco and I would carry my canvases, brushes and paints down into town during nice weather. But as I started to paint larger works, it became more and more difficult to bring everything I needed. Now I am more likely to bring my ‘models’ home to my terrace, a lemon tree, fresh flowers and blooms of all kinds.”

It was during one of her en plein painting outings that she was approached by a gentleman who inquired about putting her work on porcelain and pillows, ultimately inspiring a new venture that set her art apart. Along with hanging in galleries and private collections around the world, you’ll find her work gracing her clients’ wardrobes as well, giving new life to her brilliantly painted floral and arboreal portraits – and putting them into the hands and homes of an increasing number of admirers.

GIRL FROM IPANEMA, Leggings and tennis skort, by Dena Lyons

“I don’t want people to think that they have to pay thousands of dollars to have art in their homes – or have to make a joint investment or decorating decision to purchase a painting. My pillows and wearables give them the opportunity to enjoy my art in different ways on an individual basis,” she explained.

They also get to experience the undeniable joie de vivre she instills in her work, a feeling of joy that transcends the medium to impart Dena’s signature brand of happiness into their hands and hearts. Her clothing line includes stunning silk, cashmere and cotton scarves, large and small for women and pocket squares for gents, made from fabrics she personally sources in Italy; ponchos, kimonos and caftans that flow with elegance, no matter the place or the occasion; short and long-sleeve blouses luxuriant in charmeuse silk made in Florence, Italy; and sensually chic dresses that swirl unto the scene in fashion statements that speak volumes about life in the south of France.

Dena Lyons’ home décor products, made-in-Italy pillows and beds throws among them, are equally scintillating design accents that transform a room with blazing splashes of color reflective of a van Gogh or Matisse painting. New this year are her playful pet products for dogs, from all-breed harnesses to collars and leashes, and her leggings, walking art masterpieces that sculpt figures like a glove and are popular with her younger clientele.

FLOWER POWER, cotton cushion, front – by Dena Lyons

As our interview began, I inquired about her customers, wanting to know who bought her paintings or donned her designs. By the end of our conversation, I realized that her clientele are ageless and adventurous, people who live life in magical moments, who appreciate nature in all its brilliance, who dream in technicolor visions, and who find beauty wherever they are. Just the way the artist herself does. ☐

Dena Lyons living art is available online at:
www.denalyons.com — New York City at The Met Opera Shop, in the Palm Beaches at the Norton Museum and at fine boutiques across the United States. For more information, contact Dena at [email protected].

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