I am deeply saddened by the death of my friend, the brilliant painter and printmaker, Valton Tyler.
A visit with Valton was definitely a highlight of growing up at Valley House. Back when I was a child and could fly, I’d run ninety to nothing from the house or creek barefoot, dog in the race, stringy hair flying to find him when I saw his car or had an alert he was at our place. Typically I’d find him alone, often in a corner of the gallery – waiting to talk with my Dad. When we met, I was 8. He would see me barefoot and covered in mud, smile, and laugh a little when he spoke sentences, ‘Ha he hey how ya doin’ Barley’? I’d notice all the details about him – the paint on his fingernails and pants, longish hair thinning – hands combing it through up and over the center of his head, loose buttoned shirt, sandals. He’d look down a lot, so I did too. I can’t recall what topics we covered other than what creature I’d recently discovered or what was he painting that week. It was never about the content of our chat. I considered Valton a celebrity and a genius. I admired his talent and obsessed over his work from the youngest age well into adulthood. Valton mirrored the places in me of not belonging. He addressed the parts of my heart where I felt sad and unheard. Often we could turn that bummer stuff around into a mutual cheer club. I’d lift him up or he would lift me up. At his funeral, his nephew spoke about how great he was with kids. I can attest to this. What a lucky thing I was a kid when we met! Once met as a child, no way to hide that child again.
I would spend hours in the gallery laying on the floor looking at his paintings and thinking about the unusual friend I had who painted them. I would marvel at his inventive complex mind. I would think about how he sometimes upset my Dad, but was always even tempered and kind with me. I would easily experience the depth offered in his work and I liked traveling into the mystery and amazing worlds presented – the ‘conversations the creatures were having’ as he called the phenomenon.
I knew lots of folks didn’t enjoy feeling such things, because so many weren’t interested in his work and certainly couldn’t live with a Tyler – way too challenging. Dad told stories of clients trying one in their home ‘on approval’ and bringing them back the next day. “It’s too scary in my house when the lights are low”, they would say. The haunting shapes and forms used to vibrate their way off the canvas at night accentuating that portal to another land thrilling enough to chill Rod Serling. And all I’ve ever wanted was to live with a Tyler painting. . . //valleyhouse.com/thumbnails.asp?mode=search&ArtistID=63&SortOrder=alpha-artist&page=1
I took a group of students to Valley House recently and asked them to pick a work they loved and one they hated and to figure out why in writing. At least 4 teens ganged up on a Valton Tyler painting. One wrote: ‘My least favorite is Rational Forest by Valton Tyler because it looks animated and the shapes seemed fake.’ //valleyhouse.com/detail.asp?artworkid=10257
Why didn’t the rest of the world think Valton was a genius? This question has been the most frustrating one of my entire life! Who else can offer an other worldly experience so valuable and exciting on a simple picture plane? I am most grateful Valton lived to see his work honored in a one man museum show at the Amon Carter this year – //www.cartermuseum.org/exhibitions/invented-worlds-of-valton-tyler -the first of many important shows to come. My Dad, Donald Vogel, bought his work and gave him shows, kept him eating and painting for years as his patron. In the course of their relationship which was often not an easy one, Valton and I had the opportunity to bond. Valton Tyler will remain one of the more interesting characters and important teachers I have known. My friendship with Valton will always inform my work with students who are shy, brilliant, and in need of a very special sort of intuitive connection. I’m grateful for your life, your work and your friendship with this little starstruck kid. Thanks Valton – I’ll miss you.