San Jose, CA

Tyler Gordon: When life challenges meet divine creativity in a child

Vic Aquino

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Artist Tyler Gordon at the 49ers game on 1/2/2022 completed activist Dr. Harry Edward's portrait in just 20 minutes.(photo by: Vic Aquino)

15-year-old Tyler Gordon is an art prodigy and an already well-established portrait painter born and raised in East San Jose. When Tyler was 10-years-old, dreams from God “activated” Tyler to spread love and inspiration through his creations.

“When Tyler was much younger, he would just watch me paint,” said Tyler’s mom, Nicole Kindle, also an artist. “But he never showed real interest until he had The dreams telling him to paint. After he painted the first one, I was really surprised.”

Tyler submitted his painting in a school fair and won, but his next painting of NBA superstar Kevin Durant and appearance on the Steve Harvey Show in 2018 changed everything.

“Tyler loves Kevin Durant,” said Kindle. “I put it on Facebook and it was shared a million times. Next thing I know, Kevin Durant’s mom, Wanda, called me through Facebook and said, ‘I need to buy that!’ “

Tyler did a total of 17 paintings for Durant (and met him and other Golden State Warriors at that time, of course). After the flood of media exposure, calls for other commissioned work poured in.

Tyler’s work reaches across generations

Tyler’s unique, quick painting style of shades and shadows of the likes of the Obamas, LeBron James (and a Time magazine cover), Jennifer Lopez and dozens of other celebrities evoke all at once a futuristic modern nostalgia.

Having the chance to meet many of his famous subjects, a big part of Tyler’s allure and inspiration is how a giant talent emerges from such a quiet, young presence.

“Tyler’s art inspires lots of different people,” said Kindle. “We get so many responses like - ‘You made me want to paint again. I’m 80 years old and I’m inspired by a little kid,’ - I just think that’s so cool and I think that’s what he mainly does it for – to inspire.”

Tyler takes that responsibility in stride.

“Sometimes yes, but I still act like a kid,” Tyler rightfully admits.

Asked of Tyler’s older sister, Kymani, what she thinks, “He’s still the same annoying Tyler.”

A mother’s love is everything

“She means so much to me,” said Tyler as he looked straight to his mom. “My mom really helped me and my siblings my entire life and raising five kids by herself is really hard. She just means so much.”

Tyler’s mom was quick to point out if they were all younger it would be more difficult to care and support Tyler through the difficult childhood challenges.

Tyler was born deaf and is still partially deaf. At six-years-old, Tyler had surgery that helped restore some of his hearing. Then having to learn to speak initiated a stutter that he manages better today.

“Luckily, Tyler is the baby of the family, even though he’s a twin, he’s still the baby,” said Kindle with a side-eyed look from Tyler. “Aside from his twin (Taylor), the help and support from the elder siblings has helped out a lot.”

“Mom, I’m older!” exclaimed Tyler. It was at that point, the source of Tyler’s side-eyed look towards his mom emerged.

“His twin brother, Taylor, was breached,” Kindle explains. “His brother just stuck his foot out of me one day without warning. They rushed me to the hospital. They pulled out Tyler first, but since Taylor’s foot was technically out first, he’s the one-of-two on the birth certificate and Tyler is the two-of-two.”

So, on a technicality, Tyler’s is deemed the youngest.

“Mom, I am the oldest,” Tyler continued to insist. “My body and soul were out first and I took the first breath.”

It’s clear this argument will go on for years to come, but Tyler’s facts would seem to sway more votes his way.

And if things couldn’t be any tougher for Tyler’s journey…

“He used to get bullied a lot because of his stutter and the way he talks,” remarked Kindle. “Now all those kids want to be his friend.”

“Luckily, the same group of friends he had when he was younger are still best friends with him now,” Kindle says with pride. “They’re very patient with him. They don’t treat him any different and they keep him protected. When he stutters really bad, they just tell him to slow down.”

If things couldn’t get any worse, it was discovered Tyler had a vitamin D deficiency when he was 12-year-old.

“He literally jumped off a curb and broke both femurs and hips,” said Kindle on the effect of the deficiency. “He was in a wheel chair for two-years on top of the stuttering and the kids were ruthless to him.”

Kindle added with a timeless stare, “But even through all that he would just smile and say, he just wants people to be happy.”

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Tyler Gordon with his portrait of Dr. Harry Edwards(photo by: Vic Aquino)

Love always prevails

When you first see Tyler, especially if you don’t know who his is right off, you can sense a feeling of warmth and comfort and a deep distant stare when you first enter his orbit.

“Life was good before all this,” shared Tyler when asked of his life before the fame, “We had tons of fun at home.”

The honesty and purity of Tyler’s presence was there well before his extraordinary creative abilities took hold. And it all makes sense, when you look at the bigger picture.

The fun banter and interaction with his mom is constant. The deep relationships with young friends who knew to care for Tyler well before the fame also says a lot about them, and siblings who’ve rallied around Tyler and his mom is love fully realized.

One can sense even if Tyler’s talent disappeared, all the love would reciprocate regardless, as it should be for all of us with or without fame.

“Out of all of us, I think he gets beat up the most in the house, because he’s always trying to say things and bother us,” Kymani says with a deadpan look. “He’s the youngest so we beat him up a lot. His fame doesn’t affect us at all. At home, he’s still the same.”

“He’ll run to my room and say, ‘They’re trying to get me!” says Kindle. “And they’ll all come in my room and say, ‘Tyler is messing with everyone!’ “

The business at hand vs. Tyler’s well-being

The Gordon’s take the work, the business and this blessing seriously. They have to.

“I just keep practicing,” said Tyler on the question of getting better.

“And I put him on a timer sometimes,” said Kindle on helping to keep Tyler sharp. “Because a lot of the work he gets he has to paint so quickly, he literally only has so much time to do it; like during football half-times.”

The business side of things is typically the worry for such a wunderkind, as the world is strewn of many talented and exploited children. Along with Tyler’s manager Damien Escobar (famed violinist), they help manage all of the pressure, negotiations and logistics.

“Sometimes, Tyler will be on the road and someone will say, ‘You’re going to do A, B and C’ and that’s what he prepares for,” said Kindle. “Then when he gets there, they try to switch things up.”

But now, he has a voice. ‘No, that’s not what you brought me here for,” Tyler will say.

Tyler says he can reach certain points where he won’t feel like painting, but with so much motivation and inspiration out there, not for long.

“A lot of people see this amazing stuff he’s doing and can look at him as a machine.” says Kindle on how people can view his talent. “I still look at him and he’s a child.”

Sometimes Tyler faces commissioned work that is difficult and it worries his mom if he could do it.

“Mom, I got it. Don’t worry about it,” Tyler will say to his mom on more complex projects.

“Tyler’s had so much counted against him,” expressed Nicole reflecting how Tyler has progressed. “People said he wasn’t going to survive because he was born so early. People said he would be blind and deaf and mentally slow.”

“Mom, sometimes I am slow though,” said Tyler with a grin.

It’s clear there’s so much more to Tyler’s story still unfolding. Starting with his first picture book to perhaps a Hollywood movie one day.

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L-R: Taylor Gordon, Donovan Enriquez & Tyler Gordon at Overfelt High School(photo by: Vic Aquino)

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A 50+ year San Jose-native focusing on social awareness, social good, social impact and the hidden gems and treasures of the area. Freelance journalist & sports contributor to SB Nation, Bay Area News Group & SF 49ers (@VicD_SJ on Twitter).

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