He likes to be known as UT’s "Court Jester" or "local trickster," but Beauvais Lyons is also a gifted artist, mentor and a force behind the School of Art’s graduate program in printmaking, which was ranked fourth nationally last week by U.S. News and World Report.
"Humor is a wedge that helps us to see beyond the style and rhetoric in a presentation and to critically judge and assess its content," he said, explaining how he encourages students to find their critical voice. Rather than being passive consumers of culture, he encourages his students to be active producers of culture.
Lyons’ career has involved the "discovery" of three new civilizations — each based on principles of archeology, anthropology, medicine and other sciences. As an undergraduate, he studied scientific illustrations, history books and other reference materials he found on library shelves.
Lyons first unveiled the ceramic pieces of the "Arenot" while a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He drew inspiration from living in Iran as a child to create the "Apashts" – telling their story through printmaking, ceramics and sculpture.
Since coming to UT in 1985, Lyons has fabricated the "Reconstruction of an Aazudian Temple" – a national touring exhibition comprising artifacts that unveiled a Utopian culture that lived along the Euphrates River, "skilled in poetry, dance, cooking, horticulture and massage."
Lyons notes that much of what we see of ancient civilizations in museums is reproductions or facsimiles. Similarly, his own exhibitions of imaginary cultures have often been represented by facsimiles and reproductions.
His current traveling exhibition "Hokes Medical Arts" has recently been presented at three prominent galleries in Canada and will travel to Iowa, Nevada and elsewhere over the coming months.
The prints in Lyons’ "Association for Creative Zoology" exhibit parody creationism. The first public presentation of this project took place last summer in Dayton, Tennessee, in conjunction with the 20th Annual Scopes Trial Festival.
Wearing period clothes, he presented prints and artifacts supporting "zoomorphic juncture," the theory that God creates species variation by collaging different animals to create new hybrids.
It was not the first time Lyons has played the role of scientist or museum curator — he’s appeared in newspapers and on television in character, telling tales.
Lyons began his career studying ceramics, but saw printmaking as a way to merge his interests in drawing, painting and photography.
In the early 1990’s he fought to bring "The Centaur Excavations at Volos" – a half man, half horse "archeological finding from Ancient Greece" – to Hodges Library as a permanent exhibit. The Centaur was first created by William Willers, a retired zoologist from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. For years, the exhibit has been a standard part of campus orientation tours, and it encourages every UT student to be a critical consumer of information.
In explaining his work, Lyons makes note of Picasso, who said "art is a lie which tells the truth." And Lyons added, "Truth be told, don’t believe everything you see."
Art professor Beauvais Lyons is married to Diane Fox, an instructor in the College of Architecture and Design. Diane’s son and Beauvais’ stepson, Ben Fox-McCord, is a UT student, studying printmaking.