Ian von Talee, 22, might not be entirely comfortable talking about himself. If you meet the artist and ask him about his work, he won’t shy away from a conversation, but it seems clear that the detail of his illustrations speaks volumes about the intensity the young artist possesses.
Von Talee possesses the seriousness of a seasoned artist. And that may be because, even in his early 20s, the tall Pasquotank County native is becoming seasoned.
His first sale was when he was 14.
Von Talee — he was know as Lowery back then — had a desire to be an architect at one time. That desire led him to render a drawing of the Nicholson House, a restaurant in Belvidere.
“I did a sketch and took it there and showed it to the manager and they bought it,” recalls Von Talee.
Von Talee, by the way, is a family name. Lowery, he explains, is his father’s adoptive name. Von Talee and his brother both agreed to adopt this family name.
But that is now. Back then he was Ian Lowery and he had just sold his first piece of art.
“It was pretty amazing,” says Von Talee. “I hadn’t had anything like that happen before.”
The idea wasn’t so much to be an artist. Rather, he was looking at the prospect of being an architect with an eye on historical preservation. Von Talee has a thing for old things, and that would play into his persona as an artist and illustrator, although at the time he might not have entirely realize it.
What he did realize was that he was becoming more interested in fine art as he began to sell drawings. He began to market his talents and started going to local galleries, realtors and architectural firms. He began selling his services as a draftsman.
“They had blueprints but they wanted drawings to show the clients,” says Von Talee of his first professional commissions.
He was only a teenager.
By the time he was 17 he had his first show at Red Rabbit Gallery, along with two other artists. That show set his future in motion. Von Talee sold more than half of his exhibit.
He would do more shows, make more sales and receive more commissions. He would also begin to evolve to a style that is immediately recognizable and is Ian Von Talee’s signature.
For those who have not seen his work, perhaps the 2011 Ghost Walk featuring the story of Nell Cropsey would ring a bell. Von Talee illustrated the program and made a number of items the Elizabeth City Historical Neighborhood Association would sell during the annual event. The animated figures represented Cropsey, her beau Jim Wilcox and the rest of her family members and were standouts during the event.
The style, Von Talee says, takes into account the influence of late 19th and early 20th century British illustrator Arthur Rackham.
Rackham’s book illustrations were highly fantastical and detailed. The same can be said of Von Talee’s work, but perhaps that’s where the influence ends and Von Talee’s vivid imagination, coupled with what he says are Baroque images begins.
“It’s neo-Baroque, flamboyant,” says Von Talee, when describing his work.
Working in watercolor and pen and ink, Von Talee is creating a fantasy world that is rooted in his vivid imagination and his love antiquity, but also familiar to the eye. A self-portrait, for example, shows Von Talee as a young 18th century man.
And that seems to have become one his trademarks. He transplants the people he paints into fantasies and historical period.
Von Talee has illustrated two books for a local, self-published author, but it is the commission work that is taking on a life of its own. The young artist’s style is beginning to appeal to a wide audience and his ideas are being sought out when people like a prominent Richmond, Va., family desired something more than traditional portraiture.
William Tyler, a descendent grandson of 10th U.S. President John Tyler, commissioned Von Talee to do a series of paintings that would include members of his family in a story Tyler created.
The story involved a king, queen, princess and even a dragon. Each family member had a role in the story, and Von Talee would paint a likeness of each one as that character.
It was pure fantasy, of course, but well suited to Von Talee’s illustrative imagination.
There were six large paintings in the series and while it incorporated Von Talee’s unique style, he says the commission has also set him in a new direction. He sees more similar commissions coming his way and he is seeing more and more acknowledgement of his style.
The self-taught artist says he is struggling with the idea of going to school. He says he would like to attend the prestigious Savannah School of Design in Savannah, Ga., but that’s a costly proposition.
He’s also concerned that, since he’s establishing a style and process, he might lose something in the translation.
But art is evolution and Von Talee, at a very young age, is showing that not only can he evolve, he can also achieve new successes with each change.
For a more comprehensive look at Von Talee’s work go to www.ianvontalee.com. At the bottom of the page, click on the icon with two dots to view numerous examples of his work.