Within the frames are carefully rendered drawings of bizarre structures and creatures that defy description. The canvases explode with colors and shapes that curve and undulate in unimaginable ways. They are modern, abstract, surreal and boldly daring.
And they are hanging at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.
“The museum hasn’t shown a living printmaker or painter since the early 1970s,” says Shirley Reece-Hughes, curator of paintings and sculpture at the Carter, establishing the context for the museum’s new exhibition, “Invented Worlds of Valton Tyler.”
The exhibition offers 60 works by the Garland artist who, unlike nearly all of the other artists found at the Carter, is very much alive.
“While we do have an ongoing program devoted to living photographers, and have just started actively collecting works on paper by contemporary artists, we will be considering artists on a case-by-case basis as we move forward with our exhibition programs dedicated to living printmakers and painters,” Reece-Hughes says.
This show came about as the result of some research by Reece-Hughes, and a gift to the museum.
“My first encounter with Valton Tyler was by visiting regional collectors. And I fell upon these paintings at someone’s home,” Reece-Hughes says. “This was close to the time when [Dallas photographer] David Gibson reached out to us and offered this gift of a series of prints that Tyler did at SMU between 1970 and 1972.
“And we were thrilled to receive them, because part of our mission has been to recognize and celebrate regional talent.”
That gift of 50 prints provides the core of the exhibition, which Reece-Hughes says is intended to make patrons aware of regional, self-taught artists such as Tyler, and bring them into the “larger conversation of American art.”
The prints, drawings and canvases of Tyler, 72, attracted Reece-Hughes because of what they were — and what they refused to reveal.
“The power of his work is that it is mysterious, but at the same time compelling,” Reece-Hughes says. “While it may not be immediately recognizable to us, there is something that draws the viewer in and makes us question what he is thinking. And then we parcel out what we can relate to.”
Likened to Dali
There is certainly plenty of mystery in the almost-familiar shapes and forms found in Tyler’s works. His creations have been likened to the alternative universes found in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, and the fantastical dreamscapes of Salvador Dali — a pair of artists that Reece-Hughes says Tyler had never seen before he created the pieces that invited those comparisons.
“I hope people will enjoy looking at his artwork and understanding his ability to create these other-worldly places for us to enjoy. They allow us to immerse ourselves in a world of fantasy and escape, and sort of lose ourselves there,” Reece-Hughes says.
The exhibition offers 60 works that challenge the viewer to take a new look at reality.
“The World of Watermelons,” for example, is an etching that features a design that looks like it could decorate a neo Grecian urn. There is a house and some doors depicted in a detailed enough fashion to look like an architect’s blueprint. But those known elements are surrounded by odd, flowing and floating embellishments, all around an anchor point that looks a bit like a slice of watermelon.
The real treats in the show are its nine paintings, which Reece-Hughes feels are especially impressive because Tyler began working with oils and canvases long after working primarily in monochromatic drawing and printmaking.
“To be able to have that mastery of oil without [formal training] I think just speaks to his innate gifts,” says Reece-Hughes, adding that the multitalented Tyler also taught himself to play classical piano works by ear. “He said it was the prints that inspired him to do painting.”
Rethinking still life
Where the prints, etchings and drawings feature whimsical creatures wed to bizarre machines, imaginary objects in search of meaning and intricate crosshatching and shadowing that produces an effect that is simultaneously chaotic and meticulous, the paintings are all about the pure joys of form and color.
“Standing Still” is a 1984 work that rethinks the concept of the still-life painting. It sort of resembles that vase of flowers that is such a standard part of that style, but not exactly.
The “flowers” in this painting are odd, interlocking shapes cast in vivid colors (his blues are especially amazing) and assembled as carefully as a Lego blocks construction.
“Fru Nam Fri No Da,” from 1976, offers mostly geometrical forms (Tyler likes spheres, in particular) along with a few natural shapes. But they are presented in an orange-ish gold that almost vibrates off the canvas.
In looking at these works, you might think that the artist behind them would have to be some sort of wild man, in the style of the famously theatrical and flamboyant Dali. But Reece-Hughes says that Tyler, whom she describes as “a loner,” is much more down to earth than his out-of-this-world art would suggest.
“He is a very sweet, humble and genuine person,” Reece-Hughes says. “And he is very driven. He is one of those artists who can’t stop working.”
But while he apparently likes to keep to himself, Tyler is not a recluse. He was on hand to sign copies of a 49-page book the museum created, also titled “Invented Worlds of Valton Tyler,” at the exhibition’s opening last Friday.
“It’s very much a moment of joy for him to see his work celebrated in this way,” says Reece-Hughes.
Invented Worlds of Valton Tyler
- Through April 30
- Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth
- 817-738-1933; www.cartermuseum.org