Joseph Conrad wrote: “My task . . . to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see.”
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 with 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 he would explore and 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 mention 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 personal portrait projects 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 the feminine form and for women themselves.
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: Your friend commissioned you to paint his jean jacket when you were just eleven, though you’d been drawing long before that. 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 . . .
Through my father, I had an early introduction to drawing and reading comics which was probably the initial spark.
Apart from the drawings, which were immediately accessible for a young reader, I think what appealed to me at that age, was that the stories represented some sort of heroic ideal that I might be able to use in my own life.”
That one might be able to address challenges in life, even as a kid, in a way that was noble and ethical.
Dorian adds 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 jean jacket 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.
OCB: What are you painting/drawing/creating art for?
DORIAN: “This is the position, both psychology and actively, I’ve found that feels most comfortable on a daily basis. Drawing and painting are how I process and reflect the world around me; the mystery, the questions, the beauty…”
In our exchange, the idea was presented that creating is sometimes akin to meditation in that it allows one to calm the ripples. That creating allows one to reflect the world outside, but also to see to the depths underneath.
Dorian used a wonderful metaphor of a bird as it gets close to water then flies away, its wings causing ripples that come and go, and I found that a rather profound thought, one that might be relevant to other creatives for distractions tend to come and go, to flutter in and out, yet sometimes we get caught up in the ripples . . . and they, in turn, become further distractions. I love the idea that creating art, the act of being in the moment of creating is a form of meditation, one that allows us to experience or perceive the duality of the world . . .
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 am also compelled to create out of a deep respect for life. To look at life as something good and beautiful–wonderful, sincere and worthwhile . . . not that life doesn’t have a darker side. I’m aware of that, but I’m not focused on that at the moment.”
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 other people is important to him.
OCB: What is it about the process that you like most? Least?
DORIAN: “Truthfully, I love it all. . . . I live and breathe what I’m doing. I carry sketch pads and materials with me wherever I go.
I love painting, too. If anything, I feel like I’m not doing enough of it.”
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’d like to believe that I am open to many different things. The truth is probably closer to the fact that what remains consistent in my subject matter, is a genuine respect for life.”
Dorian also alludes to his respect and appreciation for femininity, and mentions the connection between “women, birth and the eternal mother; creator, sustainer and destroyer.” Through his art he says, “I’m working to figure out my relationship as a male to the feminine which is mysterious, beautiful, and filled with wonder.
We all have questions about life, about the time period we’re born into, and where. When someone experiences my work I hope it acts as a catalytic spark to internal poetic reflection; something universal— of what it’s like to be alive.”
OCB: What is one thing about art you think people might not understand?
DORIAN: “I’m not sure. The point of art when done well, is to make one feel. I appreciate the view of the art that elevates our soul, make us elated, and fills us with wonder . . . I hope my work evokes some of that for people.”
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 laymen 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 access the mystery at their own point. We’re all looking for things that resonate with us, that remind us of a part of the experience we’re familiar with. As people, we have similarities and differences. The less specific we are, the easier it is for people to engage in a way that’s meaningful to them.”
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. If I could have it differently perhaps it would be on a more grand scale.
There’s a part of me that would like to be doing something monumentally expansive and huge, simply to push my abilities to their extreme.”
I mentioned how so many of us yearn to be able to say that, and Dorian replied, “I’ve come to feel that if I get distracted today it’s my own fault. It’s not society, it’s me.
I’ve been focused on that directive for a while now. If my life is not in proper alignment with my stated intentions, then the next question I have to ask myself is why not? And then engage change.
This internal dialogue harkens back to my earliest experiences with heroic literature and to intuitively getting the message, about how we fight the criminals of our imagination – fear!”
I love the metaphor of the imagination, when it holds us back, as a criminal of sorts and the idea of being heroic having nothing to do with an emblem worn on the chest, but with the act of being our authentic selves.
It reminds me of the Emerson quote about the greatest accomplishment is “to be yourself.”
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, “it can get clogged up with a lot of things that are process oriented and I prefer to keep it a little cleaner.”
Spend some 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 social media platforms like Twitter as well as his blog, but as mentioned above he might be most active on Instagram. Keep your eyes out because he is often uploading images that don’t always stay long. And, if you’re like me, you’ll want to savor them as long as you can.