A San Jose teen artist who recently won raves from Kamala Harris for a portrait he painted of the Vice President-elect, is now earning national acclaim.
Tyler Gordon, 14, has been named a Top 5 finalist for Time magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year honors and will be among the talented youngsters featured in a Nickelodeon television special Friday night.
“I feel really grateful that, out of the thousands of kids who were considered, I made it this far.” Gordon said Thursday. “And I’m grateful for my family for helping me along the way.”
Time, which has named a Person of the Year for 92 years, decided this year to honor a youth, as well. The magazine partnered with Nickelodeon on a nationwide search to find the “most influential kid of 2020.” The list was narrowed down from more than 5,000 young Americans – ages 8 to 16 – to five finalists, who will appear the “Kid of the Year” special (7:30 pm Friday, Nickelodeon and TV Land) hosted by Trevor Noah.
Time announced on Thursday that Gitanjali Rao, a 15-year-old scientist and inventor from Lone Tree, Colo., Had earned top honors. All five finalists, however, will receive a cash prize and be given a chance to contribute to the magazine.
Gordon was praised by the selection committee for overcoming major personal challenges and using his art to advocate for anti-bullying and social justice issues, as well as helping children with speech impediments. He was born deaf and underwent a surgery at age 5 that gave him some hearing, but he still speaks with a stutter. He also used a wheelchair for nearly two years after breaking bones in his legs and hips due to a vitamin D deficiency.
Although Gordon, a freshman at William C. Overfelt High School, missed out on the ultimate Time accolade, he has plenty to celebrate these days. Last month, he painted a portrait of Harris and shared it on social media, hoping the incoming Vice President would see it. Chelsea Clinton and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo were among the Twitter users who helped to spread Gordon’s message.
On the day before Thanksgiving, Gordon received a phone call from Harris, who told him, “I’m overwhelmed with the magnificence of your artistry. You really have a gift. … I was so touched to see it. ”
“I was in complete shock,” Gordon said. “I didn’t really expect me to call me. We had a nice, chill conversation that was cut short only because she was cooking cornbread and the (oven) timer went off. ”
Gordon that up by painting a portrait of Joe Biden, pointing out that he has a personal connection to both the President and Vice President-elect. He admires Harris, an Oakland native, for breaking barriers like he has, and Biden for overcoming a stutter.
“He really inspires me,” Gordon said of Biden. “Even though he has a stutter, he’s not afraid to do public speeches. That gives me more confidence to accept my stutter and slow myself down. ”
Meanwhile, the honors keep rolling in. Four of Gordon’s pieces, including the Harris and Biden portraits, are now on display in Los Angeles at the Beverly Center as part of an “Heirs to the Throne” pop-up exhibit featuring work from Black contemporary artists. He has also been awarded with a major assignment from Time that he can’t yet announce.
Considering all his success, it might be difficult to believe that this talented Kid of the Year candidate was bullied so often in elementary school that he barely spoke.
“His escape was to not speak at all; he’d nod his head or point, he was so afraid, ”Gordon’s mother, Nicole Kindle, told Nickelodeon.
But at 10, Gordon found his artistic voice. After watching his mom paint, he decided to give it a try and won first place in a school art contest. In the years since, he has painted more than 500 portraits, mostly of Black icons who inspire him.
“Sometimes I can’t talk and get words out, so I speak through my art,” Gordon said.
A big break came in 2018, when his portrait of Kevin Durant, then with the Golden State Warriors, went viral and caught the eye of Durant’s mother, Wanda, who bought it for $ 300. Celebrities then started calling on him. Among the stars Gordon has painted and met are Janet Jackson, Kevin Hart, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez.
In 2019, a portrait of the Central Park Five fetched more than $ 100,000 at auction, and he won a 2020 Global Child Prodigy Award.
This past summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Gordon used his canvas to raise awareness about victims of police brutality. Looking to the future, he wants to he would “love to attend NYU, open my personal gallery and have my art all over the world.” … Oh, and he’d like to have a presidential portrait hanging in the White House some day.
Despite all the starry-eyed attention, Kindle insists that Gordon, the youngest of five kids, remains grounded.
“He still gets in trouble for a messy room and not making his bed. … He still goes crazy for Skittles and Pop-Tarts, ”she said. “And he still does his painting with cheap acrylics from Walmart.”