“My task . . . to make you hear, to make you feel –
it is, before all, to make you see.” – Joseph Conrad
The task Conrad alludes to is the same one I have set for myself as a poet, a novelist, a writer. To, “by the power of the written word,” make you hear, make you feel, make you see.
I believe, in the end, that is the intention of many artists. What they want us to see is often subjective, of course, but they seek to engage us in such a way that we notice something. That we sense it in a variety of ways. That we perceive it, in some instances, with new eyes, or as if for the very first time.
I think, when I first encountered the art of Dorian Vallejo, his ability to achieve this task is what resonated with me so profoundly.
Then I had the pleasure of speaking with him, of asking him a few questions, and of listening. As he spoke, I grew to admire him even more, not just for his prodigious talents as a visual artist which I hope to share with you a bit here, but for the way he sees the world. The way gets others to see as well.
I am drawn to so many aspects about Dorian’s paintings and sketches. The tenderness. The vulnerability and the strength. The way he is able to not merely recreate how a person looks, the exactness of lines and curves, but also the way he is able to share a moment in time that is part of a bigger story.
The body language, the eyes . . . there is a familiarity, and a sensibility that goes beyond the reproduction of an image. It takes more than talent to do this. it takes heart. it takes empathy. it takes a genuine interest in connecting to someone on a deeper level, an ability to see below the surface.
Dorian Vallejo’s paintings make me feel, they make me see. In talking with Dorian it becomes obvious that metaphor is often an element of his work which seems so apt, really, that would create one thing that would represent itself and something else . . . something more.
A couple weeks ago I was searching the Internet for more incredible art when I came across the Jonathan LeVine Gallery on Artsy.net. It was there that I first discovered the beautiful work of a few artists, two of whom have agreed to be part of the flock here at Other Cool Birds. I had no idea at the time that both artists share a very close connection due to their respective relationships with another artist whose work I loved back in the 1980s – Boris Vallejo.
Turns out, the first artist is his son Dorian. The other artist, Julie Bell, who will be joining the flock in the near future happens to be married to Boris. Collectively, it seems the entire family is quite artistic. When I reached out to Dorian, however, I had no idea of these connections. I wasn’t even certain that he and Boris were related, though I thought it might be possible given the uniqueness of their shared last name.
I share all this because, though I spent my late adolescence admiring the work of Dorian’s father, when I reached out to him it was due to one thing only – his own remarkable work. I admired his father’s fantasy paintings which ended on the covers of books with which I was quite familiar, Tarzan and Conan and others. And although Dorian seems to have started out working in fantasy and sci-fi, it’s his portraits and his sketches that captivated me.
I am especially struck by the emotion and the characterization he conveys in pieces like “Reflection” and “Bodymind” and “Drawing-6” (see right); by the exquisiteness and the fluidity of pieces like “Dream Ripple” and “Drifting” and “Shadow Dance.” The sense of movement, the dreamlike qualities, the sensuality all resonate with me. Most of the work on his website is of women. And it seems obvious that Dorian shares a genuine connection with and appreciation for women.
Below is just part of a recent phone interview I had with Dorian Vallejo. I wish I could convey even a fraction of his infectious and inquisitive spirit with my words the way those things came through during our conversation, but I’m afraid I fall short in that regard. The best way to get a feeling for Dorian’s sincere interest in others is by spending some time with his work. Please note his responses, though in quotes, are at times paraphrased slightly for editing purposes.
OTHER COOL BIRDS: What was it about art way back then that spoke to you or what did you get out of creating art?
DORIAN VALLEJO: “I would probably answer differently at different points in my life. I keep changing my approach. What I’d say now . . . my father is an artist. So, I grew up with that. It was very natural for me to start drawing. He would give me sketch pads and pencils, and comics as well. That early introduction to drawing and reading comics and cartoons, to working on superheroes, was really fun. What was appealing was that they represented some sort of heroic ideal that I might be able to live up to, one that I might not have understood at the time but for which I sort of had an intuitive feel.
How you might be able to address your challenges in life, even as a kid, in a way that was noble and ethical. I’m not sure how much of that I knew, but I started copying that sort of thing as a kid.”
Dorian says that, as a boy, he was much more interested in sports. That’s something I can relate to very much. He played sports a lot, but he also drew a lot. In sixth grade a friend of his was interested in having some art added his jeans which was very much the fashion trend back then. From that initial commission, came others, and so on, though at the time Dorian had no idea he’d one day be making a living with his art.
“When I was really very young, I would sit on my father’s lap, and we would draw together. That was an early connection to something that was very very pleasant. It always felt comfortable and right and there was no stress involved. It was beautiful and only had good feeling associated with it.”
OCB: What are you painting/drawing/creating art for?
DORIAN: “In meditating, one can calm down the ripples, the water, so that there’s a clear reflection. You can reflect the world outside and see to the depths underneath. I love that kind of metaphor. Distraction distorts the surface, but when you’re creating art you can see the depths or the reflection of the world around you.”
“. . . it’s like when a bird flies overhead, then comes close to the water and ripples the water. The ripples come and they go. In answer to your questions, I try and create, to engage in an attempt at a single focus through which I might reflect the world around me, the part that has mystery, that I have questions about, that engages this existence that we call life, and at the same time allow it to be flexible, not rigid, so it changes, so it is fluid like water. I engage this practice in attempting to allow it to be fluid, so it can take on the shape that it needs to take . . .”
I think that’s one of the things about Dorian’s work that resonates with me—the way his paintings or sketches are focused on a specific moment, yet they seem to reflect not just the world, but also something beneath the surface. Whether that is the mystery of the scene, the story portrayed, or it’s a glimpse into an emotion, or a metaphorical question that the mind intuitively connects to without there being a single word involved.
Dorian adds, “I also create art out of a respect for life. To look at life as something good and beautiful and wonderful and sincere and worthwhile . . . not that life doesn’t have a darker side. I’m aware of that, but I like to reflect the sincere beauty and try to do that in an authentic way.”
His appreciation for life and for his models is obvious in his work. I infer a tenderness in his perception. I interpret, maybe even feel to some degree, a sincere appreciation for the beauty of the human body, but also for the person modeling for him. After talking with Dorian, I gather that making a genuine connection to everyone is important to him.
OCB: What is it about the process that you like most? Least?
DORIAN: “I really like it all. . . . Honestly, I live and breathe what I’m doing. I love this so much. I carry sketch pads with me and bags of drawing materials everywhere I go. It’s so rare that I’ll go anywhere where I don’t have some kind of drawing material. I’m always stopping and making notations and drawing. I love painting.”
While so many people, myself included, have at some point in their lives at least put aside their dreams, their passion, for other things, Dorian is living the dream by doing the thing he truly loves.
OCB: What sort of subjects do you prefer painting/exploring and why?
DORIAN: “I allow myself to be open to different things. What remains consistent is a respect for life, and to try and make the paintings and images consistent with my values. Living authentically, a purpose-driven life, in a positive affirming way.
There is some imagery I know i can do, but chose not to because it might be cool looking, but not really something I want to put forth with my abilities.
One of the reasons I stopped doing illustration.
“Predominantly, in most of my work, I paint and draw women.” Dorian alludes to his respect and appreciation for femininity, and mentions that “women give birth and bring life, we all have mothers who have given us life. Through his art he says, “I’m trying to figure out with my relationship as a male with the feminine which is mysterious, beautiful, wonderful.”
“We all have some of these questions about life, about the time period we’re born into, and where. I can only speak about being an American, from the northeast coast, but when someone experiences my work I hope it also has something in some way universal—what I feel it’s like to be a human being.
OCB: What is one thing about art you think people might not understand?
DORIAN: “One doesn’t really have to have the language to speak about it in some erudite fashion. They think they don’t know enough, but they know a whole lot more than they think. This sort of relates to yourself, as a writer and your comment earlier about not believing you have the vocabulary to talk about art. How people say, ‘I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.’ I think in a large way the time period that we live in is magnificent. One of the things that is so great is that it allows for a plurality of ideas. There is no real concrete absolute about anything . . . and the environment is more accepting and tolerant of a plurality of ideas. One doesn’t really have to have the language to speak about it in some erudite fashion. The point of art when it’s done really well is that it makes you feel. And we all feel something because we’re people. . . . the arts in general move us. Wow, that’s really beautiful! It elevates our soul, make us elated, makes us wonder . . . you can look at something like the Sistine chapel and be in awe that another person could do something that magnificent. One doesn’t need to know anything to feel.”
Dorian discusses the idea of metaphor and how that plays a part. “Whether we’re writing, dancing, making movies, the plastics can have some lexicon associated with it that a layman won’t really get. But ultimately we’re just trying to connect with other people in a way that doesn’t insult their intelligence. Metaphor leaves it open for people to kind of access it at their own point. We’re all looking for things that resonate with us, that remind us of some part of the experience we’re familiar with. As people, we have similarities and differences. The less specific we are about things, the more opening it is. The easier for other people to engage.”
OCB: If you could work on any art project (illustrating a book, developing a personal idea, working on an historical piece) what might it be and why?
DORIAN: “I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing just about every single day. A little too much email, maybe. But i think that’s part of the whole thing. Balance is tricky for all of us i think. If I could have it in any kind of way it would be to do my art on a more grand scale. That would really be it. There’s a part of me that would like to be doing something monumentally expansive and huge for the kings and queens of today and pushing my ability to extremes. On the other hand, if I don’t have that client right now, today, it’s because I haven’t done things properly—so I’m not ready for it yet. This is the biggest, most complicated work of my life that I’m engaged in at the moment. I wouldn’t want to be in another time period. I absolutely love doing what I’m doing at the moment.”
I mentioned how so any of us yearn to be able to say that and Dorian replied, “If we get distracted today it’s our own fault. It’s not society, it’s us.”
“I’ve been focused on that a long time. If my life is not in alignment to the proper answer to that question, then the next question I have to ask myself is why not.?! Internal dialogue gets back being eight again and to intuitively getting the message of what it is to be heroic which doesn’t require a cape or a letter on the chest or even a need to fight crimes, but how we fight the criminals of our imagination that hold us back from doing what we want. And that’s fear! If i’m not living toward what I established as the heroic code of my own life, I have to ask why and am forced to answer it and forced to change.”
If you visit Dorian’s website, and I urge you to do so, you’ll find new sketches and paintings being added. If you visit his Instagram, where he is perhaps most active in posting images, you’ll often find that he’ll post a new drawing or painting that he’s been working on that night, but that he may very well take down in the morning.
When asked why, he replied, “first of all, I do a lot and it can get clogged up with a lot of stuff that’s process oriented. I prefer to keep it a little cleaner.” And sometimes, he adds, he’ll work with a model on a personal project one day and perhaps the day before he worked on a portrait for someone. “My Instagram feed isn’t about my portraits, but what I’m doing with my gallery ambitions and personal work.”
Spend a little time with his wonderful art and you’ll see that Dorian is always trying to provide that dual reflection, one that reflects the external world and also the internal. Talk with him and you’ll soon realize that he is a man of wonder, one who is constantly asking himself questions and exploring those questions through his art.
“I’m intrigued by what a few lines in ink can express . . . a form of minimalism and flat design, that suggest form, time, space, emotional content . . . everything in the spontaneous poetry of life that allows my mind to wander.”
I am fascinated by some of the questions Dorian is asking himself and by the examination of those questions through his art, as he is getting us to ask questions as well. He is getting us to hear, to feel, and to see. He’s getting us to pause for a moment and to consider. But he’s doing so by sharing beauty. And I am very grateful for that!
I hope you’ll visit Dorian’s website and his Facebook page. You’ll find him on Twitter as well as his blog, but he might be most active on Instagram. Keep your eyes out because he’s softening uploading images that don’t necessarily stay long. And if you’re like me, you’ll want to savor them as long as you can.