Westport has plenty of art galleries.
But it may never have seen one quite like Bankside Contemporary, Steve Lyons’ new one on Post Road West.
Modeled on his successful gallery in Chatham on Cape Cod, this one — formerly Mar Silver Design, opposite Winfield Deli — is far from the very quiet/let’s examine the works/wine-and-cheese reception traditional gallery space.
Lyons prefers a “communal gathering space.” He wants people to wander in, say hi, enjoy cookies and candy and coffee, and just hang out.
“If you want art, we’ve got it,” he says. “But everyone is welcome.”
If that sounds like a different kind of art gallery, well, Lyons’ path as an artist has been untraditional too.
Growing up poor in the foothills of Appalachia, he always painted. In college he minored in art and art history, but majored in something more career-oriented: journalism.
He moved to New York. He did PR for films and TV (and served a stint as critic Judith Crist’s assistant). He painted in his spare time, on weekends.
A job offer — corporate writing for a mutual fund — brought Lyons to New Haven. He bought a house on the Cape, and displayed his work at “casual shows” there.
He had some success. But he never thought about quitting his day job.
Eight years ago, Lyons began working on his back porch, painting on small pieces of scrap lumber. He put the finished art out front, with a sign asking anyone interested to put $40 or $50 in a nearby jar.
He sold 400 pieces that summer. Encouraged, he took a leap of faith to pursue art full time. “I know I’m one of the lucky ones,” he says.
Lyons opened a studio on Chatham’s Main Street — a homey place with a welcoming vibe.
In 2016 he was named one of the Top 5 Expressionist Artists in the World by the American Art Awards. The following year they named him #2 in the world for abstract expressionism. In 2018, Art Tour International Magazine listed him as one of the Top 15 Artists in the World to Watch.
It’s not quite a Grandma Moses story — she gained her first fame after age 80. But Lyons is 61 years old. Most “Artists to Watch” are not so close to Social Security.
Among the collectors paying attention was Phil Nourie. Last year — after a career in public relations and marketing — the 51-year-old Westporter started a new company.
Called GigSuite, its mission is to help people realize that after decades in a structured career, their skills actually are transferable. They can own, manage, advise and/or invest in a new, entrepreneurial field — even as their peers think about retirement.
The pair have formed an unusual business alliance. Lyons serves as Gig Suite’s art advisor. He helps clients who want to learn more about art, for aesthetic or business reasons (or both).
Nourie, meanwhile, has helped Lyons open the Bankside Contemporary gallery.
“Steve changed careers in mid-life. He’s able to help others see it’s possible,” Nourie says.
Lyons’ artistic style is an important element in what both men do.
GigSuite’s research showed that “people need an open mind first, to overcome fear of trying something different later in life,” Nourie says. It also shows the human brain responds well to abstract expressionism.
So Lyons’ work hangs on the walls of Gig Suite’s office at 500 Post Road East, inspiring all who come to their workshops. And Gig Suite is the official host of the “Agility Through Art” series at Bankside Contemporary.
Grandma Moses, eat your heart out.
(For Steve Lyons’ website, click here.)