Valentino Dixon began drawing at a very early age, and he was always quite good at the art form. He honed his craft under the watchful eye of an elementary school teacher, then went on to Performing Arts high school in Buffalo. At the age of 21, Dixon was convicted of murder and sentenced to 38.5 years in prison. In 2018, thanks to the efforts of his family and friends, a team of Georgetown University law school students, and Max Adler of Golf Digest, Dixon was exonerated and freed from Attica Correctional Facility.
Dixon draws like great painters paint; a look at his work suggests oils or acrylic, but it is 100% … well, let’s allow him to tell his story. Valentino Dixon spoke with us for 45 minutes earlier this month, and we hope that his answers make you feel a part of the conversation, as if he were speaking over the phone to you.
What are your memories of growing up in Buffalo, before the arrest and conviction?
The East side of Buffalo was not a safe place, but we made the most of the environment. There was a lot of drug dealing and illegal activity; it was the norm. I played football and did artwork, and tried to stay away from that lifestyle. Some of my friends didn’t and many went to juvenile hall. I found my peace of mind when my dad took him fishing. My life basically existed within a 10-block radius.
Was golf a part of your life during your first 21 years?
Golf had never entered my brain for half a second. I knew nothing about the sport. It wasn’t until I had 20 years in prison that I learned of it. I was known as the artist in Attica. I drew up to 10 hours a day, every day. I drew landscapes, animals, people, flowers. I even had a dream to start my own Greeting Card company. I had designed over 500 cards, and to this day, have 100000 cards sitting in storage. One day, the warden asked me to draw the 12th hole at Augusta National. He tossed a bunch of Golf Digest magazines on my bed and that’s how I began to draw the courses that I thought were pretty.
Was drawing or painting a part of your life growing up? What are your favorite pieces or memories of drawing from your youth?
I drew a picture titled ALL OF US that won Our Best when he was 12. Mrs. Charlotte Ross, grammar school art teacher, was my favorite teacher in the world. MLK on High Street. School 39 back in the days. She taught me how to blend colors, how to paint. I knew how to sketch. I was doing cartoon characters at age 4. Part of the Golf Channel documentary.
Golf is the type of activity that can hook you and reel you in, until you spend a lot of time on it. Do you play, or do you have interest in playing?
I have played it multiple times on multiple courses, and I’m no good. I’m late to the game, and my swing is atrocious. I have video footage to prove it. I’m a good putter because I have an athlete’s eye.
Talk about the drawings for a bit. What do you use to create the lines and the colors?
I use prisma color pencils, 48 or 96 or 224 pack set, I have hundreds. I keep all the ones that dwindle White strathmore paper or composition board. No instruments, just pencil and paper. I layer and layer and layer my colors to give it a painting look. I get all the white out of the paper. It took me ten years to understand and develop that style. There must be no crevice, nothing coming through.
Do your scenes draw in toward the middle of the canvas, or do they push outward toward the edges?
It depends on what’s going on. It could be the sky, or the course, or the sandtrap, or the golfer. It has to be something that draws you in, or the color scheme that pulls you right to it.
What causes you to choose certain colors for certain scenes?
I have to develop a vision before I can start the drawing. Color scheme is in my brain, before I draw. I line up all my colors, and visualize how it will look once I start to put it together. If I can’t see the success of it, there’s no reason to get it started. I used to lay 20 colors down on bed in prison, and start eliminating them. My book took me three years, and I rewrote it four times. I wrote from 6 am to 12 noon, every day. Early in the morning was the time I had to rewrite. 500 pages of handwritten notes. It’s myy book, I have to get it right. Bring sentences together. Everything has to make sense. Is the scene dramatic enough? Is it boring? Every page must give you something to think about. My story, with life lessons. I read over 600 books in prison. The Black Phil. How do I capture the reader, and teach him something that they don’t know? Forget the ghost writers. No one can tell my story like I can. I wrote lots of letters in prison. I’m good with words.
Is there a question that no one has ever asked, that you would love to answer? Ask it and answer it, please.
I’m a private person, and I’m an open book with my answers. I want the reporter to come up with the question, and I’ll answer it. If I did come up with a question that no one has ever asked, it would be strategic from me, for a marketing purpose or some other intent.
Do you like to draw?
I don’t like to draw. I force myself to draw for the last thirty years, because I know that it’s a talent that I have, and I have to make a living. First seven years of sentence, I didn’t draw. My uncle told me that, if I can reclaim my talent, I can reclaim my life. He sent my colored pencils, and I began to draw. I drew to gain my freedom, because everything was denied, despite the evidence. It was my art that gained my freedom. I was in survival mode. I was drawing as a way to survive prison mentally and emotionally, and to get the world’s attention. By the way, he’s innocent. I drew for twenty years straight, non-stop.
What do you love to do?
I love to play football. I played in Attica’s football league. Wide receiver was my favorite. No one could check me. 4.4 speed, great hands. It was like playing against little kids. I’ll make a video of me at 52 years old, outrunning the average 20-year old. Me running routes, catching balls, you won’t believe it. I’ve always loved to fish. I now love to learn about the stock market and investing. I came out of prison with a plan. I set up a website, I brokered my own deals, I sell my own work. Since then, I broker $100K deals, without help, managers. I take no shortcuts for a brokered piece. I want it to bring tears to your eyes. I’m going to capture every last thing.
Other articles on Valentino Dixon