CAWOOD sculptor Michael Lyons died suddenly in April, only weeks before the opening of his biggest ever exhibition on York soil.

The nine large-scale sculptures assembled outdoors in the Artists Garden and Edible Wood behind York Art Gallery under the title of Ancient And Modern now become a celebration of his internationally recognised talent.

Inspired by nature, myth and ancient cultures, the sculptures created by Lyons between 1982 and 2000 will be on display for a year, with his ambitious 1993 work Amphitrite, a large painted steel structure that evokes the sea, as the centrepiece.

Becky Gee, curator of Fine Art at York Art Gallery, says: “Michael Lyons’s incredible work has been shown around the world and in some of the most respected art institutions in the UK, but this is the first large-scale exhibition in York, his home city.

“His works bring a new dimension to the setting of the Artists Garden, complementing and contrasting with the ancient walls of St Mary’s Abbey and the more rustic landscapes of the Edible Wood.

“They truly suit their garden setting, and it will be fascinating to see how they change as the seasons change how the gardens look.”

Before his passing, Mr Lyons said of the show: “To my knowledge this is the first time such a large exhibition of outdoor sculpture has been shown in York – certainly for many years.

“It’s a great pleasure to make a contribution to the cultural life of York in this way and I hope that the exhibition will help to make sculpture a more integral part of the city.”

The exhibition had been in the planning for many years, and once Becky took up her curator’s post five months ago, she was able to work in tandem with Mr Lyons in the months before his death. They would liaise by phone and email and she visited his studio too.

“Michael was very enthusiastic, full of ideas, and spoke very eloquently about his sculptures, and he loved the space where they were to be exhibited. That inspired the Ancient And Modern title for the exhibition,” says Becky, who collaborated with the sculptor on the detailed wording to accompany each sculpture.

“His energy, warmth and creativity made a real impact on the gallery team and we hope the show will prove to be a true celebration of the extraordinary skill and talent

he possessed.”

Working from the Cawood studio he established in 1977, Lyons’ sculptures range from small-scale to monumental, fashioned in brass, bronze, clay and copper, with his exploration of the medium of steel resulting in an ambitious body of work equally at home in rural and urban landscapes.

Although the sculptures are abstract, their starting point is often figurative, as seen in the exhibits Ace (1982), Michaelmas (1982), Mayflower (1983), High Priest (1989), Cavalcade (1990), Hornblower (1992) and the companion pieces Harvest: Ceres’ Key (2000) and Harvest: Demeter’s Dream (2000), as well as Amphitrite.

“Sculptures can be hard to fully comprehend until you see them in front of you, but Michael’s works feel like they have landed here and been here forever,” says Becky.

“The beauty of them is that you can sit on a bench in the gardens and appreciate how each setting has been carefully chosen. That was very important to Michael’s family when they came to see us installing the sculptures.”

Becky’s favourite piece is Cavalcade, the work placed closest to the gallery walls. The most colourful is Mayflower, a yellow disc that evokes the sun, made at Mayflower Engineering in Sheffield, hence its name. Whatever the weather, radiant sunlight will shine through the year ahead in the Artists Garden.

l Michael Lyons: Ancient And Modern, on show in the Artists Garden and Edible Wood, York Art Gallery, until late-May 2020. Admission is free.