Next to Normal – Dylan Moore

When I asked him when he first started drawing, Dylan Moore laughed.

“Growing up in the home of an art teacher,” he explained, “makes it hard to distinguish a beginning. I’ve always drawn.”

As naturally as one’s hand is an extension of the arm, so has Dylan Moore’s art been an extension of his life. His talent is due in part to being born to a creatively talented family and bestowed a namesake heritage including the likes of Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas. The rest of it is credited to his relentless work at improving and capitalizing on the efforts that have carried him this far. Although he can’t remember when he began putting pen to paper, I remember the first time I was captivated by his work.

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I’d noticed Dylan, 24 years old and newly moved into Brooklyn, at church before. He sat in the row in front of me each Sunday, sketching as he listened, and I usually paid little mind to it beyond noticing how easily shape took form on the paper in front of him. This time, I glanced down at his sketch and was captivated by the portrait of a handsome boy whose eyes were covered by cicadas. He appeared on the page like magic, first in a series of fine outlines, then increasing in detail as the curves of his face were shaded in, and I remained transfixed by the kinship I felt with this boy who couldn’t see.

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I didn’t know it at the time but I was staring at a metaphor for the shadows I was experiencing in my personal life. I couldn’t put words to what I was going through and Dylan’s drawing made sense of it for a moment, making me feel less alone as I vacantly sat through service. I introduced myself to Dylan later that afternoon and shared my admiration for his sketch, feeling immediately embarrassed after having confessed to peering into a journal I was never invited to look into. 

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Ten months later, I found myself interviewing Dylan at a coffee shop in Park Slope, paging through stacks of his sketchbooks, laughing awkwardly as our conversation danced through the formalities of acquaintances, and musing over the origin stories of his many illustrations.

“I don’t feel like I communicate very well. I say more in art work than I can normally and I’ve always had a passion for it. My senior year of high school, I used to do theater stuff and had a director who said apply to art school to continue doing it. It just so happened to go in another direction.”

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Dylan himself is not easily forgettable with his fire red curls and gunmetal piercings. You get the sense that he doesn’t take his image very seriously but his naturally striking features combined with his quiet disposition makes his presence feel like it’s meant to be observed like a piece of art itself – To be engaged with from a distance, up for interpretation, and perhaps as a consequence, mistakenly interpreted as a reflection of other’s people’s perceptions rather than an accurate portrayal of who he is.

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Dylan’s scope of work explores the grandeur of nature and composites it against the understated beauty of the human body. In observance, his art reminds the viewer of a humbler time when we were more conscious of our mortality and it suggests we would benefit from reconsidering that time again – To reflect on our existence with the symbiotic miracles of carbon, oxygen, bone, and muscle that make it possible in mind.

“The driving themes in my work aren’t my own because I haven’t had a lot of life experience. I lean into other people’s ideas and use allegories inspired by science or whatever literature realm I’m exploring at the time.”

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“I did a big show in November exploring how people relate to nature. The overarching theme was the history of environmentalism and how our relationship with nature isn’t black and white. Whether you want to improve it or you’re apathetic to how your existence impacts nature, there’s a lot of gray area that isn’t considered when people talk about the environment. The things we do tend to have effects we don’t plan for. The show was called Balance because our relationship with nature isn’t black and white and neither is much else.”

Dylan quotes JC Leyendecker, Sterling Hundley, James Jean, and Odilon Redon as inspirations and like many of these artists before him, his own beginning as a professional has been possible through a series of lucky breaks, chance meetings, and tireless effort.

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“At first, it was very slow. I would rarely get illustration jobs. I was living in Charlotte after I graduated and was invited to do a piece for a gallerist. At this gallerist’s opening, I met another gallery owner who invited me to do a piece for them. I had to get my foot in the door and meet people naturally. I still do.”

As long as I’ve known him, Dylan has been humble about his work in a way that understates the appeal of it and allows it to speak for itself. Even each time I’ve complimented it, he seems embarrassed by the attention yet at the same time, he doesn’t minimize how much of his life has been rearranged to accommodate his career as an artist.

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From moving to New York, to working multiple jobs, and being commissioned for art on top of his regular hours, if there’s anything I’ve learned from befriending Dylan, it’s that making art is a sacrifice and whether your work is a kind master or not is beyond your control. Our economy is built to suggest that the value of your work is determined by those who will observe it and the pressure of this reality is felt by creatives – whether or not they believe it’s true.

“I don’t feel like I’m happy enough yet with what I’ve done so far I don’t anticipate I’ll ever feel happy with what I’ve done.”

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“If I sit through something I think is awful, it’ll get better the longer I work at it. I experience an ugly stage in every piece I paint and I used to get very frustrated about it. But it’s necessary. You have to go through the ugly, push to be better and get past the road block. As you practice that, you’ll notice your own eye for composition, contrast, and color improve as you do.”

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As Dylan left me with this advice, I thought about how appropriately it applied to matters beyond art. What helped me get through last year was fixing my eyes on what I knew mattered to me. What mattered to me was following Dylan’s example in pursuing a career I’d be proud of, lifelong friendships with people I respect and admire, and a commitment to my values whether others celebrated them or not. I’ve long considered the sacrifices each of these things would require.

The boy with cicadas is frozen in time.

I’m grateful to be seeing more than ever.