Lyle Silver: A Life in Art by Saylor Jones

Sunday, March 10, 2013 2:43 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

Patricia Rovzar, whose gallery has been representing Lyle Silver since 1997, recalls meeting the artist: "When he first came to me for representation he was skillfully immersed in working as a courtroom artist. He was getting out of that mode and wanted to focus on his fine art. Since I have been representing him he has gone from making pretty straightforward landscapes to those that are a lot more gestural and less refined, less confined by the landscape itself." 

Lyle Silver does make the world seem fresh. 

For instance, in an oil bar on board painting entitled "5th Street Alley in Winter," cobalt and turquoise blues churn atop snow while a structure beyond could be mistaken for a quilt built of colors. The painting has an intimacy-in-public feel of a Charles Burchfield, a sense that you are waking from a deep sleep to find this scene materialize before your eyes. 

Using traditional subject matter has allowed viewers to trust Silver enough to fall completely into his abstract visions. In his most loose renderings of figures, land and cityscapes marigold yellows, persimmon reds, lavenders, bottle greens, deep browns, and coldblue pigments hover in streaks and daubs like space aliens attempting to spell out to their home planet what Earth has in store. 

Rovzar says, she is "not calling this exhibit a retrospective because we are not going all the way back sixty years. Instead I am calling it 'A Life in Art.'" 

The title aptly describes what Silver's life has been.

The artist had a studio loft in downtown Seattle for 25 years where he and his wife Lois, also a painter, hosted weekly drawing sessions for artists. They lived there and were fully immersed in the art community. When that building came down he and Lois moved into a big house where they were able to have both of their studios – yet, they continued hosting life drawing sessions in the basement of Art Not Terminal Gallery for another thirteen years, a location just around the corner from their former loft space.

Of all the married Seattle-artist couples, Lyle and Lois Silver's works appear the most similar. Rovzar believes it is partly because of having studios in the same house. "His wife is an integral part of his process," says Rovzar, "and he with her. They are each others' critics. They work separately but together in their studio spaces and so are able to draw on each other for artistic nutrition. It's kind of an interesting balance - they both work with oil bar and they both have developed different techniques in terms of how they use oil bar. And every once in awhile they influence each other to the point that you're wondering, "Is that Lois Silver or Lyle Silver’?"

Silver got into using oil bars during his courtroom drawing days - a profession that his wife still partakes of. "We got into oil bars because they are pretty easy to pick up," says the artist; "If you had to go to the courtroom they were pretty handy."

The exhibit offers 25 or so sketches, drawings and paintings that represent a wide scope of the artist's oeuvre, including the large landscapes depicting rural areas in Washington state. When asked about the locations, Silver said, "I've gone all over. Skagit Valley, Cle Elum, and the Willamette Valley. You know, anywhere is okay." On Gage Academy of Fine Art's website Silver is quoted as saying, "Getting into the mountains from the city is always awe inspiring; I never get tired of it."

These landscapes are often seen from the point of view of the driver or passenger of a car; the road is out ahead or a guard rail peeks from a composition's corner. They also show visual echoes of one of Silver's influences, landscape painter Wolf Kahn.

It is fantastic when an artist lives long enough to loosen all the way up. Sometimes this looseness results from a physical challenge such as Edgar Degas' blindness or Auguste Renoir's paintbrush tied to his arthritic hand. Yet, for some artists this freedom is due to mental release, like in the case of Lyle Silver. 

Says Rovzar, "I think what happens [with age] is that you care less about selling the artwork as opposed to creating it. You come full circle. I think that in Lyle's heart of hearts the looser was always the better. I think he was always that way. But I think he felt that in order to make a living at this and become a commercial success he had to paint what he thought people would embrace and he didn't think that people would embrace the looseness of his larger pieces. He found out that was untrue in the end."

When asked if he had any advice for young artists, Silver replied, "Be focused. If you want to be an artist you need to focus. Keep working. Keep associating with other artists. And keep looking, keep looking."

Young artists, take heed. 

Saylor Jones

Saylor Jones is a Northwest illustrator and writer. To view her work, visit

"Lyle Silver: 60 Years in Art" is on view January 3 through February 5 at Patricia Rovzar Gallery, located at 1225 Second Avenue in Seattle, Washington. The opening reception is Thursday, January 3, from 6 to 8 P.M. For more information visit
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