Valton Tyler, a prodigious, visionary, self-taught maker of prints, drawings, and otherworldly paintings, died in Dallas, Texas, on September 25. He was 73 years old and had suffered from respiratory and other ailments. Born in Texas City, on the Gulf of Mexico coast, Tyler was a child when a chemical explosion in the town’s port set off massive fires there and at nearby oil refineries in what became known as the largest industrial disaster in US history. Later, Tyler spoke about that terrifying event and his family’s escape from the burning town, sometimes hinting that his strange landscapes’ fiery skies reflected his memories of the Texas City Disaster. Paradoxically, at times he also denied any such allusion in his art’s unusual imagery.
photo © Edward M Gómez
As a teenager, with his mother and sister, Tyler moved to Dallas, where his older brother, Robert, worked as a draughtsman in an architectural firm. A prolific maker of drawings whose semi-abstract forms suggested plant-like, organic forms, Valton often gave them away. Advising him that he would never be taken seriously if he did so, Robert showed his brother's India ink drawings to Donald Vogel, a painter who, in the 1950s, had founded Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden, Dallas’s first high-quality, modern-art venue. Vogel became Valton’s dealer and champion, acquiring much of the young artist’s output and arranging for him to use the printmaking workshop at Southern Methodist University. There, in the 1970s, in just two years, Tyler produced a series of 50 sophisticated etchings featuring complex compositions.
He also created oil paintings whose futuristic, partly architectonic, partly mechanical-looking, techno-baroque structures loom against richly coloured backgrounds. Tyler called them “my shapes” and suggested that they had “feelings”. He said, “I try to make them communicate with each other.” After ending his relationship with Valley House Gallery in the 1990s, he made many large-scale paintings for private collectors, while refining his drawing technique in images of his bizarre “shapes” rendered in plain pencil or red coloured pencil on paper. A friendly eccentric who once spent nine years eating only baby food to avoid choking, Tyler was admired by other artists who knew his work.
Tyler lived to see a superb exhibition of his etchings of the 1970s presented at the Amon Carter Museum in Forth Worth, Texas, earlier this year, and the new film Valton Tyler: Flesh is Fiction, by myself and cinematographer Chris Shields, before its recent première at the Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth. Recalling his art-making as a child, Tyler once recalled, “I became aware that what I was doing was something special, something I would never want to stop doing.”
by Edward M Gómez