Max Adler questions Valentino Dixon at Dixon's first solo show after being released from prison for a crime he did not commit. Photo: Dan McQuade (Deadspin)
Valentino Dixon tells a story in front of a packed house for his first solo art show, and the audience is thrilled. He went to prison in 1992 and, after his release in 2018, his daughter bought him his first smartphone.
"Sometimes I just want to take it and throw it," he says. Then he shares a story. "I'm at the hotel and I need a car to get to the airport. But I do not know how to download the Uber app on the phone. I am aware of the Uber application, but I do not know how to use it. You have people walking in the lobby of the hotel. So I chose a guy who reminded me of a guy in jail. It was a white guy, but he looked affordable.
"So I tell him, do you have a minute? I need help, I need help downloading the Uber app on my phone so I can get to the airport. "
"He said, are you kidding me?"
After Dixon told his story – he had been imprisoned for 27 years for a murder he did not commit, he was released with the help of a golf journalist who had originally described him because of his passion for drawing golf courses – with the accessible white guy, the man was more than happy to help.
"Holy shit!" Said the man, according to Dixon. "I'll do anything you want, man … I do not know how you spent 27 years and you're still laughing and smiling."
In 2012, Golf Digest Journalist Max Adler wrote an article with Dixon about how golf saved Dixon's life. Imprisoned for a shootout that he had not committed in 1991 – another man had even confessed to the crime – Dixon had found peace in the Attica (NY) detention center by drawing routes of golf. It all started when the guard asked him to draw the famous 12th green of Augusta National. Dixon, who had never practiced this sport, nevertheless became addicted to drawing serene golf scenes on famous courses, or drawn from his own animation.
The Adler article has attracted the attention of other media outlets, as well as the Georgetown University prison reform project. A team of students started working on Dixon's call. More attention meant more lawyers working pro bono on the case. Erie County, New York, has a new attorney. The wrongful convictions unit reviewed the case and released Dixon last September.
By its nature, the penitentiary system makes it difficult to acquire the other skills necessary to relive in society. But Dixon's case – "a miracle", Adler calls him, evoking all that had to be done to free him from prison – is different. He is already an artist who has attracted national attention. Now he wants to make his career.
Some of Dixon's drawings exhibited during his one-night show.
Since his release from prison, Dixon has already sold coins, including seven ordered. The American team of the Ryder Cup commissioned him to make a play for Captain Jim Furyk; it was presented to him before the demolition of the United States by Europe during the competition of last year. When Dixon spoke to Deadspin on Wednesday's show, he confessed he could not wait for it to be over. He wanted to get back to work on a piece he was working on for Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Dixon makes complex pencil drawings that have the quality of a painting. He started drawing in pencil because it was the only material he had in Attica; the painting was not allowed. Now released, he continues to perfect his pencil art, to experiment with more colors and to create surrealist scenes of golfers with golf balls for heads.
Dixon's work has a serene and pastoral quality. It is a non-golfer who draws an idealized version of a course, a perfect day. There is no one who plays too slowly or in bad weather. His famous hole drawings appear better than reality. Although he never played the game until he was released from prison, he draws as if he remembers an old round. And his stories add a lot more to them.
"I thought it was quite compelling, especially to know the story behind that," says Andrew Edlin, who animated Dixon at his exhibition gallery and at the Outsider Art Fair. "He is a very good draftsman. And the subject is so unusual. But for the history of his course on golf, this could be interpreted as a bit kitsch. But the truth is that it is extremely well done. He has a convincing and naive quality. "
Dixon drawing on Pebble Beach.
Take Dixon's drawing on Pebble Beach, accompanied by an anecdote: "You have this view of the ocean and this old wooden fence. I drew it several times. And shortly after I left, I sat on that fence after I left.
Dixon explains how he chooses courses for his plays and uses the example of Augusta, the 12th. "Many courses are alike," he says. "A course that catches my attention is a course that has some sort of character. If it is designed with character, it will motivate me. I made Augusta's eighth hole about eight times only because of this bridge. "
Dixon hopes to use other mediums to express himself as well. He says he's trying to expand to oil or acrylic painting. He will also be an accredited member of the Golf Digest The editorial team next month at The Masters. That should give him an inspiration.