Giving pause

Tom Dytko works to create abstract designs that can’t be reproduced with today’s technology.Photo: Robert Eliason

As a community, South Valley is particularly fond of its artists. It’s hard to miss various rotating installations as part of Valle del Sur’s Art Guild’s “Art Around Town.” Valle del Sur, founded more than 40 years ago, is a non-profit dedicated to visual arts in southern Santa Clara County, working with local artists to place their original works at more than 14 different locations throughout the South Valley, from cafes and restaurants to framing stores and dental offices.

Guild member and Morgan Hill artist Tom Dytko creates large abstract pieces with bold colors and lines.

Painting since he was a young child, Dytko was awarded a scholarship to the Chicago Academy of Fine Art after high school.

Despite being accepted into the program in 1969, Dytko followed his family to California that same year where he wended his way through various computer programming jobs. Dytko, 65, now does art in his spare time and works as an IT manager at Washington Hospital in Fremont.

Through the decades, Dytko’s interest in creating art ebbed and flowed. Although he would pick up a brush now and again, Dytko has been selling his art for only a few years.

Dytko’s acrylic paintings are created on large canvases at his home in Morgan Hill. “Many of them are too big to carry to and from shows, so I sell them online,” he says. And he’s interested in going bigger.

Dytko enjoys music and even played French horn when he was younger. Today, the inspiration for his art comes from music, which for Dytko just goes together. “The intensity of a painting can somehow come out of the intensity of the music that I’m listening to. Or, if it’s a serene song, then it becomes something a little more relaxing.”

Dytko has a bias toward jazz, but one of his paintings that hangs in his house was inspired by the hard rock hit “Crystal Planet” after the album of the same nameby guitarist Joe Satriani.

Dytko enjoys teach people to paint and is no stranger to an audience. Dytko’s work has been featured at venues including Vyne Bistro in San Jose and Clos LaChance in San Martin, where he is often asked to do demonstrations during as part of his exhibits.

Dytko’s top tool of late is a masonry trowel, which he uses to create hard lines on his canvas. His makeshift pallette—a pyrex baking dish—is an appropriate container, considering the size of the trowel.

He works mostly in acrylic, but Dytko is not a purist. “All of these media just start working together,” says Dytko.

Like many artists, Dytko says he doesn’t always have a clear vision for the results, but allows the painting to reveal itself to him. “The painting speaks to me. It’s more of an interactive thing with the painting. Unless I’m putting texture on a canvas, then I have something in mind … I’m just not there yet.”

With such loose guidelines, it’s possible to think abstract art might come naturally, since it seemingly lacks definition. Dytko recalls teaching abstract art to students over at Vyne, where a few of the students said they didn’t need the instruction—just the wine—because it’s abstract.

The students later called for him with beckoning arms, saying “This is hard—how do you stop it from turning into mud.”

One of his students, his granddaughter, Mary Price, had real talent, but she and her parents, Jason and Olga Price and siblings, Olivia and John, died in a plane crash in December 2015. Jason Price piloted the plane out of Hillview Reed in San Jose headed for Las Vegas and the Gilroy family never made it to their destination.

As a tribute to Mary and her work, Dytko arranged to display her art as a small part of his own showing at the restaurant Odeum Odeum in Morgan Hill.

The void left by their absence—in his home where they once shared celebrations—is acknowledged in our interview and serves as a striking reminder that life is impermanent.

Dytko says he was very inspired by his family, particularly the kids who would help him to name his paintings and from whom he could count on an honest critique. While there are times when he is overcome by the loss, he’s not one to busy himself as a way to heal from the pain—he has to put aside his work and go for a walk until he feels creative and able to paint again.

Dytko says he creates his art to elicit different emotions in his viewers. He wants to create something real, but more than that—it’s to give pause to the viewer—to cause them to stop and consider the art and the feelings that it stirs up. When asked to explain a particular painting, called Gates, Dytko’s response was, “Well, you tell me.”

Next, Dytko will do a new, larger series. He has been working on procuring canvases as large as 7 feet and thinks he’ll put down the trowel for a while. “I’m trying to get away from texture and just work with brushes and different types of media to get different, more unusual results,” he says.

“We’re in a digital world. You can take a picture with just about anything and with computer graphics, you can manipulate it and turn it into a watercolor painting or something and then go over to a canvas printer. Print it off onto a canvas and come back in with a clear glaze on top of it and make it look like a finished painting,” says Dytko.

“Anybody can do it—so I’m trying to do something that can’t be done by a computer.”
Tom Dytko’s work is currently featured as part of a rotating art exhibit at the dental offices of Dr. Jernell Escobar in Gilroy. For more information about Tom Dytko or the current exhibit go to or contact the offices of Dr. Escobar at (408) 847-2658.

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