About the Artist
We're All Here: The work of Valton Tyler
by Kim Alexander, March 2000
The great collector Albert C. Barnes once wrote: "A painter's worth is determined precisely by his ability to make the fusion of plastic means forceful, individual, characteristic of his own personality". For Barnes, this plastic means summed up the elements of painting which convey image, and their fusion amounted to a unique and affecting consummation of color, line, light, and space. He used the word plastic to emphasize the artist's potential for distorting and changing his particular interpretation of an image on the canvas. This approach to art formed the aesthetic foundation for one of the most intelligent collections of paintings in the world, and it also posits the importance of Valton Tyler's work today (Barnes 55).
The spine of Barnes's aesthetic, which accounts for his luminous collection, is his requirement that a painting's parts be integrated into an indissoluble whole, which voices the unique hand of the artist. For this reason, Valton Tyler's work stands alongside the work of Rousseau, Gauguin, and Chirico, as an instinctively masterful exploitation of the formal elements of art. Tyler constructs dynamic compositions which are not merely defined by the distribution of shape and mass in the painting. He fuses color, line, light and space so thoroughly that each element contributes necessarily to an animated composition which owns itself. In Permutation, for example, Tyler's use of lighting, the tensions of color, and the illusion of space engulf the spectator in the contained world of the painting (Tyler). Tyler's shapes insist on the spectator's participation, as every contour which catches the eye directs it to another shape, which in turn directs it to another shape. Try standing in front of a Tyler painting and ask permission from any shape to either stagnate, or leave the picture, and you will be denied. The force of this visual knot asserts the veracity of the world in the painting, and the perfect interplay of the parts arrests the viewer in that world. Every aspect of the painting powerfully contributes to this vigorous effect. The experience is similar to standing in front of a Rousseau and being transported out of time, but it is distinctly Tyler.
Experiencing a Valton Tyler painting tempts one to compare it to old acquaintances. This is to be expected. Anyone who meets an alluring and enigmatic person attempts to resolve the enigma by relying on familiar references. This temptation indicates the viewer's seduction, however, because Valton's voice is no patchwork from the past. A cursory look at Desert Shield, for example, brings a list of names to mind: Max Ernst, Hieronymus Bosch, Henri Rousseau, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro (Tyler). But when one attempts to seriously apply these references, the liveliness of Tyler's composition insists on its own unique and unassociated voice. Yes, voice. Desert Shield is an entity on its own terms, which the viewer must heed. One cannot passively view Desert Shield, one encounters it, perhaps even becoming acquainted with it, but it rises above the predictability or subordination of an object and meets the viewer on its own terms. The forms morph, perspectives shift, the depth vacillates, the organic shapes emote, and the painting, contained by the force of its own composition, refuses to be contained by the viewer. Each painting is an untamed event.
This vivacious nature of Tyler's work inspires the impression of a world in each painting. Certainly, Tyler builds a convincing depth and space, but these paintings do not just depict another world, they are another world. The tension inherent in the composition, the shifting perspectives, the dynamic line, all convince us that the forms in the painting stopped moving just before we looked. In fact, the positioning of the forms intimates movement so that the frozen moment which we observe seems arbitrarily still. It threatens to shift again when we turn our backs, and so we take the dare. We turn and then sneak another glance, and sure enough, something has shifted. Maybe what appeared round before is now flat, or what once leaped out of the picture plane now recedes, but a new event, a nimble world revises itself. The painting refuses to submit to our predispositions, and we must attend to those foreign laws of nature in the world of the picture. Somewhere inside of it life pulses independently, and perfect composition remains the only constant.
Tyler's fusion of plastic means is so coherent and full of necessity that each painting contains a life force of interacting elements, but it is also radically signatory. Tyler's line, composition, color, use of space--every element which contributes to the personality of his pictures, also testifies to the unique hand of Valton Tyler. Tyler's dynamic line especially marks out a recognizable autograph. Ultimately, however, Tyler's creations address his own urges and questions with such a naked intimacy that he inhabits every picture. Tyler's comment on We're All Here (3) emphasizes his attachment to the results of his pictures:
These forms are a family gathering talking and having a good time.
Adults and children are gossiping and sharing their news. The
fluttering objects could be their conversation...The structures have
doors and windows that could suggest eyes and mouths, but you
are to go in the buildings and walk around them. (Reynolds 124) Clearly Tyler visits the landscapes which he constructs, and their reality is palpable to him. His fascination with the independent world inside the picture attunes him to the tensions which give his pictures life. Because Tyler creates a world which convinces himself, his pictures, in turn, express his complex nature. Each painting is a vortex of independent life, and each answers Tyler's drive to find another world. The credibility of the world inside of his pictures and their strong sculptural feeling particularly suit Tyler's appetite so that each painting characterizes the distinction of Valton Tyler himself.
Tyler's propensity to create a sense of independent space and vitality elevates his pictures out of the realm of predictability. In order for his pictures to have the Tyler-mark of an independent world, they must act on their own accord. They must intimate an interior life of their own. Of Still Life (4) he says
Apples are cut in two because the peelings do not want to hide the
beauty of their interiors. The portholes create a contrast. They
suggest the inside environments of the objects. This is important.
All of my structures are aware of their inside worlds. (Reynolds 60) Every element of a Tyler picture testifies to the interior consciousness of that picture. In fact, Tyler's drive to create an independent world impels his most subliminal expressions to assert the painting's autonomy. Tyler paints with intense honesty, out of an intimate impulse, so that his pictures bear the unique mark of his inner workings, as well as his hand. This makes his paintings complex, substantial, and authentically human.
(1) Tyler, Valton. Permutation. c. 1974 Collection of Valley House Gallery.
(2) Tyler, Valton. Desert Shield. c. 1990 Collection of Valley House
(3) Tyler, Valton. We're All Here. Line etching. Reynolds, p. 124.
(4) Tyler, Valton. Still Life. Line Etching. Reynolds, p. 60.
Barnes, Albert C. The Art in Painting. New York: Hartcourt, Brace and Co.,
Reynolds, Rebecca. Valton Tyler. Richardson, Texas: Valley House