Late Bloomer

The long-deferred dream of Myron Conan Dyal

If we tell you that Myron Conan Dyal is a self-taught artist who is having his first exhibition ever at the age of 63, you'd probably be in no hurry to go see his work. Great artists tend to bloom early or not at all, and if a guy hasn't had an exhibition by the time he's eligible for the Senior Belgian Waffle Slam at Denny's, well, the odds are that his art has remained buried at the back of his closet all those years for a very good reason.

You go into a 60-something-year-old artist's debut show expecting the kind of bland, tasteful stuff you'd see hanging in the lobby of a bank: flowers, seascapes, cowboys and all that. Maybe some very chaste nudes, if you're lucky. You absolutely do not go into it expecting the kind of freaky-ass wonderfulness that Dyal springs on you in his one-man show, "Primordial Images of a Modern Mystic." If you're half as weird as Dyal is by the time you're his age, consider it a life well-spent.

Dyal creates astonishing, one-of-a-kind paintings and statuary, fusing together humans, animals, plants, musical instruments and lots of other things into fantastical, citrus-colored beasties. Dyal's cast of characters reaches out at you with lobster claws, crawls along the ground on snake bellies or skitters around on pretty little crabby legs, and soaks up the sun with great flower petals growing from atop their heads. It's such a joyous, anatomical free-for-all that before long you start to feel like you're the odd man out, with your paltry two legs and your boring old head with nothing but hair growing out of it.

The colors are electric, like those strobing fish who spend their entire lives at the bottom of the darkest seas and never get a good enough look at themselves to know just how freaking bizarre they are. Many of Dyal's creatures have a flayed quality, with pulpy-looking musculature and sheets of unfurling skin on proud display, and there are great piles of skulls all over the place, growing out of bellies and backs like clusters of boils, yet looking strangely comfortable and pleased with themselves, like they have every right in the world to be there.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Dyal's work sort of looks like somebody took the cast of Cirque du Soleil, stitched them together with the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are, and then set them all on fire . . . except much prettier.

This description probably makes it all sound much more ghastly than it really is; the truth is that most of Dyal's work is rather startlingly benign (although when it is ghastly, it's ghastly in a really neat way). Sure, Dyal's strange little world seems like it should be what the boys of Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have called "pure nightmare fuel," but somehow it's all dazzling and lovely rather than sick and horrifying. "Yeah," the creatures all around you seem to be saying, "go ahead: Look at my naked monster parts. I don't mind. We're all friends, here."

You look at Dyal's work, and you just sort of assume he's completely nuts, and it turns out he does indeed have the kind of exotic backstory that would fully entitle him to spend his life wandering downtown in a tinfoil beanie. He started having visions and seizures at the age of 4 following a four-month coma, and his fundamentalist parents decided he was possessed by demons and had him exorcised on two separate occasions. But while Dyal's "demons" never left him (he was eventually diagnosed with epilepsy), he managed to build a remarkably sane life for himself, getting married, earning a bachelor's degree in music from Cal State Long Beach and eventually becoming vice president of Digital Communications Corp., a position he still holds today. He began creating his art in the '70s, working in secret for decades.

Dyal could've been a Henry Darger case, one of those guys who toils away in lonesome, self-imposed isolation all his life and whose genius remains undiscovered until after he dies and some unsuspecting janitor stumbles upon the old coot's garage full of dusty treasures. Fortunately, this story has a happier ending, with the artist venturing out into the bright sunshine and dragging his creations along with him to share with an unsuspecting world.

Even if you wouldn't normally rush out to see the debut show of a 63-year-old artist, in this case, you're just going to have to make an exception. And when we say rush, we ain't kidding. The show only runs until Sunday. So, hurry! Get your butt over to the Grand Central Art Center before Dyal's brainchildren skitter away into the night on their pretty little crabby legs.

"PRIMORDIAL IMAGES OF A MODERN MYSTIC" AT GRAND CENTRAL ART CENTER, 125 N. BROADWAY, SANTA ANA, (714) 567-7233. CALL FOR HOURS. THROUGH SUNDAY.

 
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