Visual Culture: Amir Lyles + S.O.N. A.R.T. Gallery

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

Black Thought has always loved art (In fact, quiet as kept, he was an art major in high school).  To this day he harbors a love of the visual arts, studying the emerging talents, thoughtfully decorating his house with paintings, photographs, prints, and more. He'll also occasionally put us on to some of his favorite artists.  One such talent is the Philly-based painter Amir Mark Lyles who's S.O.N. A.R.T. Gallery (Something Out Of Nothing - A Revolutionary Talent) can be perused online.  Heavily influenced by music--and the message therein--Lyles brings to life the spirit of a song in his work, from recognizable portraits of everyone from Eric B & Rakim to Nina Simone on the one hand, to figures inspired by the lyrics of Bob Marley "Pimpers Paradise" (below).  Check out our conversation with Lyles below and hear what he has to say.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

OKP: Tell us a bit about your history.  How did you get started with your art career?

AL: My name is Amir Lyles.  I was born in Harlem, NY.  I live in Germantown, Phila currently. I've been doing artwork professionally for the last 7 or 8 years. I decided to do it professionally after things didn't work out with my last couple of jobs and I was pretty much forced to do for Self.  I decided to use the talent that I had as a career.  ...But I've been doing artwork ever since I can remember, I've always done art.

OKP: Is oil painting your primary medium--and why painting in particular (as opposed to all the other possible modes of artistic expression)?

AL: Well, yeah,  I do paint in oil.  I like oils, but I also paint in acrylic.  I do a good amount of mixed media work too-- collage, photo montage, whatever you call it.  I have done a little bit of woodcarving as well, but I like painting most of all.

OKP: Your work is clearly very inspired by music - are you musical at all yourself?

Music influences a lot of my work. I wish that I was more musically inclined.  There are lots of instruments in my house, different kinds drums and percussion, piano, guitar, flutes, recorders, kazoos, harmonicas, etc, and my children and/or I kind of just play around whenever it hits us. Most of the time I listen to certain specific music through an entire painting or series, because it informs the work and maintains the vibe.  Right now, I've been listening to Fela Kuti pretty much all day.  Been listening to a lot of Nina Simone and on for several months. Midnite--they're a reggae band from St. Croix, VI...lots of messages there, stories and things to visualize in their music.

OKP: What else informs your paintings?

Life in general. African Culture.  People on the street, things I may hear from people passing my window.  Sometimes I hear things in passing and I will hear it kind of other than what they meant?  Like just each word, not the whole of what they're talking about.  The sound immediately converts to imagery in my mind.  I will visualize what the few isolated words that I heard mean or convey.  So, I think that kind of personalizes the artwork for the viewer.  When they look at it, they just "get it" because it's common everyday stuff that people see or experience in their own lives and they can relate to it.

OKP: Tell us about one of your favorite works of art - something that has moved you - outside of your own work.  One of my favorite paintings is called "Sugar Shack" by Ernie Barnes. We all got to know his work from the credits on Good Times, but I liked all the work that JJ did via Ernie Barnes.  Romare Bearden is also one of my favorites.  Before that, growing up in the South Bronx and Harlem in the 80s, I was exposed to LOTS of graffiti art which helped to keep me interested in drawing, and art in general. I was inspired by the things people came up with. I always wondered how and when they would do it...the sizes of certain pieces, the colors... Ultimately, I'm from an artistic family and my greatest influences came from home.  Watching my older brothers draw and paint...going thru their stuff...looking at the things that they drew. Looking to them for guidance and to critique my stuff helped me to grow as an artist.

OKP: I'm guessing you are based out of Philadelphia.

AL: Correct.  Germantown.

OKP: Besides your gallery online is there a physical gallery space that people can come check your work?

AL: Not yet, other than every wall and storage space in the house, but I am building towards that.  For the most part, I show from home.  People can connect  via my blog or email: