Michael Lyons, sculptor

Michael Lyons
Michael Lyons
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The artist Michael Lyons, who has died at 75, was an internationally renowned sculptor who was instrumental in the creation 40 years ago of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

He gained recognition in the 1960s when he was included in exhibitions such as the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Young Contemporaries and the Whitworth’s northern equivalent in Manchester.

By the mid-1970s he had become one of the finest steel sculptors of his generation, whose potent, architectural forms commanded attention against the landscapes in which they were set.

The juxtaposition was never more striking than in Yorkshire. He had set up home and studio at Cawood in 1977 with his wife, Stephanie, and shortly afterwards met Peter Murray, who would create the sculpture park in the grounds of the former Bretton Hall college in Wakefield.

“We struck up an immediate friendship from the start,” Mr Murray said. “I was impressed by his passion and commitment to art and his ability as an artist.

“His drawings often portrayed a sensitive response to landscape which had a strong influence on his powerful sculptures, which looked at home in the landscape.”

The opening of the Yorkshire park in 1977 featured as one of its centrepieces Lyons’s Heights of David. He became a founding member of the management Committee and remained a tireless supporter. He was, Mr Murray said, “a person of integrity who made a valuable contribution to art education, but most importantly, a unique contribution to sculpture”.

Born in Bilston, Staffordshire, Lyons obtained a National Diploma in design at Wolverhampton College of Art, and then a BA in fine art from Newcastle University.

His sculpture ranged from steel constructions rooted in the tradition of Picasso, González and David Smith, to organic bronzes modelled on an intimate or monumental scale. Although abstract, his work drew on nature, myth and ancient culture, inspired in part by a visit to China in 1993. A residency at Shanghai Sculpture Park in 2009 brought forth a monumental clay work, Voice of the Mountain: Sudden Storm, cast in bronze and sited in the park.

Other residencies in Mexico, Germany, USA, Turkey and Cyprus produced numerous large–scale sculptures sympathetic to local traditions.

In 2007, his Shepherd of the Sun, a 9ft steel sculpture, was shown at the Venice Open.

His drawings and sculptures are in the collections of the Canary Wharf Group, Arts Council England, the Henry Moore Institute, the Yale Centre for British Art and galleries throughout the world.

Lyons was vice-president of the Royal British Society of Sculptors and taught until his retirement at Manchester Metropolitan University.

He and Stephanie, whom he met while they were students at Newcastle, had a son, David, and daughter, Anna.