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Emile Dillon

After a long, successful career with the Eastman Kodak Company as a photojournalist and editorial photographer, Emile Dillon returned to painting in 1998. As a photographer he traveled the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe. While he’d chosen the camera for his profession, he’d grown up with oil on canvas. His grandfather was the Harlem Renaissance painter Frank Joseph Dillon and a favorite uncle was the Latin American artist Felix Vargas.

Dillon’s years behind the camera and days in Soho galleries inspired him to pursue Photorealism as a style. But instead of the landscape of the exotic which he’d experienced in his Kodak travels, he was fascinated by the humble diners, motels, and vintage signs which were vanishing from American towns and cities. To perfect his craft, he studied at the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League in New York.

In an article on his work in the July 2019 issue of American Art Collector magazine, Dillon comments on his subject matter. “Somebody’s got to save these things…These places may not exist anymore in the next 100 years.”

Dillon’s favorite painting in this exhibition is Dunkin Donuts. When he drove up to the location that inspired this painting, he was struck by the ridiculous giant coffee cup bearing the famous pink and orange logo, and the comparatively subtle competing franchise Subway beside it.

White Castle II, is from an ongoing series of paintings celebrating the country’s first fast-food chain, established in 1921. Famous for the small square hamburgers which were initially priced at 5 cents, today the surviving vintage locations are revered as textbook examples of industrial Art Deco with their white enamel-glazed brick exteriors and interiors of enameled steel.

In paintings of locales in Florida where he lives, Dillon delights in the refined palette and elegance of Art Deco in State Theater and Avalon, a portrait of the classic 1941 hotel on Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami.

For the past couple of years Dillon has focused on vintage popular culture in SoCal and Las Vegas. Casa Escobar in Santa Monica has been a local icon since it opened in 1967. Beverly Cinema, built in the 1920s has long been a well-loved repertory revival theater for modern and classic film.

Emile Dillon’s work is in numerous private collections and that of the American Historical Museum in Jersey City, and the New Public Library in Newark, New Jersey. This is his second one-person exhibition with Skidmore Contemporary Art.

July 2019


Emile Dillon's work transports viewers to a distinct and particular setting. His work varies from movie theater signs to restaurants or hotels, each defined by an exact moment, like a photograph. Dillon's 2016 acrylic painting Rae's depicts a specific yet accessible scene, Rae's Restaurant on Pico Boulevard and 29th Street in Santa Monica. The piece portrays a common Los Angeles image--a sunny day in fall, indicated by the brown leaves of the tree behind the sign, perhaps mid-afternoon. Dillon transforms an ordinary, possibly mundane moment into art. Recognizable signs and logos become revolutionized. Dillon's bright, eccentric and playful use of color is not only pleasing to the eye, but is also an identifiable trait for Dillon's body of work. Vibrant sky blues emphasize bright red or yellow signs across United States cities.

Dillon's work is capable of grounding viewers into a scene. Whether that scene portrays the Thunderbird Inn in Savannah, Georgia or a Duane Reade at the Snapple Theater Center on the corner of 50th Street and Broadway—Dillon's locations encourage viewers to relate their own experiences to his works. Viewers may find it easy to connect to his work because Dillon chooses clear subject matters—logos and signs—that are easily identifiable. For instance, California inhabitants may connect with Dillon's 2015 acrylic In-N-Out Burger, a chain of fast-food restaurants which directly correspond to a typical California experience. Dillon's 2006 acrylic Avalon distinctly nods to a Miami way of life with a photorealist portrayal of the Avalon Hotel.

Dillon is drawn to subjects that are strong in geometric, graphic shape. His 2014 acrylic The Three Cokes demonstrates Dillon's use of logos but also structure. Although Coke cans are by nature sharply defined, he does not shy away from cans' starkness. Placed upon a graphic and structured table, the Coke cans reflect each defined shape. Therefore, the logo is not only the main subject matter, but ultimately dominates the canvas.

It's easy to connect to Dillon's work because he presents subject matter with approachability and playfulness. Perhaps you have walked or driven past Rae's, The Avalon, or even recall going into the Duane Reade on 50th and Broadway. Dillon presents a snapshot of a particular moment in time, and transforms it into fine art for viewers not only to visually enjoy, but to connect with for themselves.

Mirabelle Alan
June 2017