Alumnus Brian Poli-Dixon spent his UCLA career balancing collegiate football and art.
Poli-Dixon’s current collection of paintings, titled “Genius,” was unveiled April 14 at the Artworld Fine Art gallery. Poli-Dixon said painting has always been present in his life, even though a large part of it was spent playing for the UCLA football team and for the New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers as a wide receiver in the NFL. He said he uses the drive and determination he gained from football toward making an art career for himself. Because he would often paint portraits in his childhood and currently does so in his “Genius” series, Poli-Dixon said his lifelong passion for art has come full circle.
“I feel that I was an artist before I was a football player,” he said. “As far as I can remember, I’ve always been into drawing, painting, being creative, whether it be pottery classes, just really anything creative.”
Bright colors, including reds and yellows, along with 3D-like textures characterize Poli-Dixon’s works. The “Genius” series is meant to inspire people to explore what they are passionate about, he said. Although the faces in these paintings are straightforward to look at, their message is to value individual interests over being the smartest person in a room, Poli-Dixon said. The word “Genius” is painted onto many of the works, with an emphasis placed on the “us” within the word to make the line feel inclusive, he said. In some of the pieces, “us” is painted with a different color, like orange, making it stand out from the other letters in the word.
As he has switched his focus from football to being a full-time artist due to a leg injury, Poli-Dixon said he has found his art becoming more visually simplistic. The “Genius” paintings feature a cast of characters which include men, women and animals that can be seen without looking too deeply into the works. Poli-Dixon said the appearances of the different characters are inspired by people in his life, like his friends, and the similar visual symmetry between each piece creates consistency.
“I used to do real metaphoric types of paintings where I was trying to find some deep meaning in every painting,” Poli-Dixon said. “Everything has a deeper meaning when I explain it, but just off of somebody looking at it, now things are a little bit more simplistic.”
Donna Child, the owner and director of the Artworld Fine Art gallery, said she was drawn to Poli-Dixon’s work because of its mix of styles. In the line of paintings, Poli-Dixon displays his own definition of what genius is with each of the faces he paints, bringing a modern message to his Jean-Michel Basquiat- and Picasso-inspired pieces, Child said. His other paintings draw from experiences in his own life, she said, such as a floral painting which was inspired by the flowers he used to buy his mother as a child.
Poli-Dixon’s athletic experience lends itself to an ability to accept criticism from his audience, Child said. As an athlete, Poli-Dixon had to face criticism from people like coaches and learn to implement it in a constructive way, she said. Child added he pays attention to artistic advice he gets, but shows his determination because he does not let it stop him from painting in his own style.
“Sometimes artists can become a bit complacent. … They almost get stuck in that particular genre of work where they never step outside of it,” Child said. “And with athletes, they’re constantly pushing themselves and striving to get better and to be stronger.”
Alumnus Scott Heckmann said when he and Poli-Dixon played collegiate football together, Poli-Dixon always showed an interest in painting and other art forms. The hardworking mindset of being a football player transferred well into Poli-Dixon making a business out of being an artist, Heckmann said. Poli-Dixon treats artistry like a job and wakes up and paints every day, Heckmann said, which shows the discipline he learned from playing collegiate and professional football.
“(Creating art) is not just something that he does on the side,” Heckmann said. “He uses the same work ethic he used in football to be an outstanding athlete and football player to really set himself apart from other artists because he’s willing to do that work,”
Artistic success is dependent on a hardworking mindset that was formed by his past as an athlete, Poli-Dixon said. Being an artist has to include more than painting all day if someone wants their work to manifest into something that has true meaning, he said.
“The main thing that I can translate from playing football and sports in general is just the time and the commitment and the hard work you have to put into it,” Poli-Dixon said. “If you do want to take this seriously, you can’t just wait for the inspiration every time, you have to put the work in, you have to put the hours in.”