Sometimes understanding what you don’t know can be one of the most beneficial truths to attach bearance. By acknowledging that void, there is an internal release provided, a demand for discovery and intuitive action. For Andres Torres, that visceral approach is matched with strong intellect and an explorative understanding of art theory. His abstract paintings have a captivating allure that provide interest for a multi-faceted audience, which he creates through finding an articulate intersection between playful and purpose.
JAM had the pleasure of talking with Andres before he moved to Wisconsin for graduate school. It feels so much longer than two months ago, when we were sitting outside in mid-August, enjoying iced tea and Torres’ thoughts. I have always enjoyed his company and valued his opinion, and his absence has not gone unnoticed. During these fleeting days of fall, take this time to read on, and reminisce on the warmth of summer, and the flowing thoughts of a genuine soul. ~Amy
What is the path that has led you to where you are today?
Well, I’d have to say that my mom was a huge part of me becoming an artist, along with my grandmother. I’ve always been exposed to art from an early age; my mom was an artist and my grandmother was an art collector. She had original artwork and was kind of involved with, and near local artists. Stuff like that. I think that’s a huge thing for a kid to see original artwork. Not everybody has that–I was lucky. I’ve just always been around it, and my mom was really artistic. She was a great photographer and has always been able to draw, but I think photography was her main thing. She was always taking pictures when I was growing up. My grandmother, just to give you an idea of how important art was to her, the last years of her life she lived at Dow Rummel, by herself, and some of the only possessions that she still had was artwork. Nothing that she ever bought in her life really stayed with her, except for the artwork. It brought her joy until the end.
When did you first start creating?
I’ve always been kind of artistic; I drew and made stuff when I was young. A turning point for me was when I was a senior in high school, and I was planning on going to film school. I’ve always been obsessed with movies; I wanted to be a director. I actually went and checked out a few schools my senior year. I was in this Advanced TV Media Class and it was my teacher’s last year teaching, and he kind of stopped caring about it. I was also taking a painting class at the same time, so I got kind of disillusioned with the media class I was taking and I decided that I was really enjoying the painting class. Basically that’s when I decided I was going to go to art school instead of going to film school. So I went to USD.
I didn’t know. I started out doing Art Education, and after taking an education course, I think I took a class for about a month and was like no. I dropped the ed minor and met a friend who was a huge influence on me. They were kind of my mentor through college, and helped shape my tastes and philosophy about painting. Then I met T.J. [Donovan] when he came to school, and I took that role on for him. Both of those people are my two of my best friends.
What year did you graduate college?
I got my BFA in 2004. (Laughing) A long time ago. I went to school for six years, I think. I didn’t go right away after high school, and then I went part-time for a little bit. Then I buckled down and basically moved to Vermillion.
Were you creating work the entire time you were in and out of school?
My first year and a half of school I didn’t make much art. I was taking the studio intro classes and trying to get an idea of what I wanted to do. This was about the time I met my painting friend, and I decided to start painting and focusing on that. I got all my generals out of the way, and my last two years of college was almost all painting. I went out to Oregon for a national student exchange for a year. I did that right after I had done all my generals and all my intro to studio classes, so when I went out there I applied for one of the few studios they had available. I got one. I was taking a bunch of painting credits and I told them “I know what I want to paint,” and they said that was okay. Most of my undergrad was independent study. I took Intro to Painting and then after that I never had any painting assignments. I would decide what I wanted to do each semester and meet with my professors and figure it out as an independent study.
Do you want to talk more about your work? Describe what you do and how you’ve developed.
I’ve always painted abstract, since my very first painting they’ve always been. In my undergrad, and even in my portfolio I used to apply to grad school, all the paintings I’ve made in the last three or four years have been pretty similar. I would work in series. They would have similar subject matter, in terms of being really focused on color and the formal aspects of the painting, and arranging the space. They were all on these really big stretchers that stick off the wall, because I always wanted there to be a tension. A painting as a window that goes into space, and a painting that’s an object that comes into space, like a sculpture. I wanted to emphasize the object-ness of the paintings by doing that. Also just using flat colors; opaque colors. Then the work I did for my portfolio, I kept working in a series, but I started making those striped paintings with different bands of color. The forms are still really similar. More recently, I’ve been trying to move away from working in series and focusing less on making my paintings relate to each other visually and more trying to make them relate philosophically. Almost be able to stand on their own more. I’m kind of re-evaluating what painting is to me right now, like what I think it should be. I’m trying to figure out how I can move forward past the ways that I’ve worked traditionally.
Has applying to grad school kind of forced you into that mindset?
One thing it’s done is force me to think a lot about my work. Conceptually… I guess just trying to find a relevance within today’s art world. I don’t want to be an artist that’s beating a dead horse. I want to try to make paintings that are progressing the medium forward in a positive way.
How do the titles you use interact with what you’re trying to purvey?
One of the things about my paintings is that they’re playful, in terms of how I paint them and the colors I use. The interaction of the elements in the work is playful. I guess with the titles I’m trying to extend that. It’s a personal way I relate to the painting in terms of what I’m seeing in it. Then a lot of times by describing that, it gives the viewer a sort of entrance or doorway that they can understand it through. I’m not trying to point at anything specific; I’m not trying to make paintings of a specific thing. I want the interpretation to be somewhat up in the air.
Breaking away from doing series, do you find that you have rules you’ve made for yourself, or anything new you’re trying to adhere to?
It’s kind of the opposite. It’s more like breaking the rules that I once had. I don’t know what a painting is going to look like when I’m starting it, but I kind of know what it’s going to look like–if that makes any sense. I know it’s going to look like the last painting that I did. I guess I just want to make an effort to move away from that. I’m going to grad school so it’s really an opportunity to just experiment. It’s like the cliché thing that grad school painters do, is they always destroy all their old shit and start making new stuff. (Laughing) I’ve already kind of begun that process before I got to school. I’ll have a head start.
So, when you start a new piece you have an idea of where you’ll be going?
Yeah. Before, I would have said no. I had no idea where it was going to go. But the more I thought about my work, the more I realized that wasn’t really true. I kind of had an idea of what I wanted, like basic things about it that I would want to do. Not to say I wasn’t open for that to move in a different direction, potentially, but more than likely I would try to shape my paintings around the ones that had come before them. That’s something, especially in an art market, artists want to be recognized and they want people to be able to tell, “Oh that’s that person.” Whether you can see the signature on it or not, people want to have recognizable style. It can be a negative thing too.
When you start a painting, how long do you typically spend on it?
That really varies. For me, time spent on a piece doesn’t really matter. It’s not a factor that I think about; It can totally vary. This piece I just cut a hole into, that thing has been killed and reborn and killed like five or six times over. That’s one of the paintings that has always troubled me, and I’ve never just completely destroyed it. I always try to make it into something new.
What’s your process for destroying your art?
It’s really impulsive. It’ll be like “Oh, I have this idea. I’m going to do that.” When I made my Smoosh piece for the Exposure show I came to my studio to work, and I didn’t have any stretchers waiting to be painted on. I looked around and I found these old panels that I had started doing something with and had just forgotten about them. I guess I’m just trying to let the pieces come about in an organic way. I don’t know what to think of it right now. I might just hate what I’m doing right now, but I’m just letting it happen.
Talk more about the material you use in your paintings. The t-shirt material, where does that come from?
Those are my clothes. A lot of the stuff that was in my portfolio, those were work clothes. I was trying to find some way to connect that labor, and everything I do at work. That’s not where my head is, I do that because I have to. I want it to mean more than just the paycheck I’m getting. It’s a lot of effort and a lot of work, so taking old dirty work shirts and being able to use that in my painting–when you’re collaging you’re adding things that have a history, or that carry something with them already. That’s what I was trying to do with that.
I work at a paint warehouse. We paint siding and trim, so I get paint all over myself. I figured it was a good way to use that stuff instead of just throwing it away.
Do you ever use paint from work?
I would take paint from work too. Different stuff, like stain. When I made those panels [used for his Smoosh piece] I stained them. Instead of gessoing them or priming them I was just going to stain them and paint on top of that. Just do an additive process so I wasn’t painting over and over. But then I thought that was dumb. I had already stained 12 of those panels, so I just painted on top of it.
Do you do anything else besides paint?
I would like to do stuff that’s maybe more sculpture related. I want to explore painting in that way. I think the work that TJ was doing in school and still doing is really interesting. The way he is still painting, but he’s giving them in a context via a website that he’ s doing. He’s using Photoshop to place his photos into different environments and different scenarios that give the painting context. It’s really unique and really weird. With what I said about being unsure about what I’m doing at the moment, there is a lot of the work I’ve been interested in lately that is so much different from the work I would have liked in the past. Because I’m moving away from that series, the things that interest me are a little bit different. The choices that artists make… I’m looking for things that are more interesting and unique instead of visually appealing and beautiful.
Are there any other artists around Sioux Falls that you think people should keep an eye out for?
It’s no secret that I really love Dave Lethcoe’s work. What I like about Sioux Falls is that everyone is interested in it [art], you know? Everyone doesn’t have that education background but I think that the more people are interested in it, the more people stick around here and keep doing new things. I’m all about that undercurrent. In terms of selling of stuff, that’s not really important. I’m interested in artists that are trying to push what they’re doing, regardless of whether or not they’re going to sell their work. That’s what interests me, and you see it more and more in Sioux Falls. It’s a good thing.
What was your favorite art show you’ve been to this year?
Even though I didn’t get to go to the reception, I love how funky the Art and Appliance event is, you know? The DIY aspect of it. Fuck the system. We can do this on our own. People still show up and support it. I would have to say that event is probably the most exciting for me this year, to be involved with that. When I was doing my [graduate school] interview at The Art Institute of Chicago I went to the museum and saw the Christopher Wool exhibit. He’s been working for the past 20 years or so I think. The work that was there was older work, but it looked really fresh. It looked like a lot of newer work that you see. It was interesting; a good show.
Do you have any advice for people applying for grad school?
Be yourself and be confident. If there’s anything that I learned from my experience that I could do over again, it would be to be a little more confident in certain interviews. Which is hard, especially for me. I think confidence is almost a weakness in terms of intelligently thinking about art. If you always think you’re right, then you can’t change. That’s what makes good art. But yeah, be confident. Think about your work. Look at work. That’s one thing that really annoys me, is artists that don’t look at other contemporary artists. How do you expect people to look at your work if you don’t look at other work? We’re artists, and we want people that aren’t even artists to look at our work. Look at art, find art that you love, and make art that you love.
Do you have any fears about going back to school?
About grad school? Yeah. It’s intimidating. I always feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, but at the same time I know that I know enough about what I’m doing to keep doing it and to get away with it. I have experienced a few situations where I was just completely… I didn’t know what to say and I just sounded like an idiot. It sucks. Nobody wants to come off like an idiot, especially in the art world.
Do you have plans for after grad school?
Not really. Depending on what I choose to do in terms of working for the school, if I do a TA, which I’m probably going to do, I might pursue teaching if I can’t just make art. Beyond that, I think it would be fun to do some residencies. I guess what I’d really like to do is travel. I’ve never been to Europe. I haven’t seen much art, honestly. Not in person. Most of my exposure has been via book and online. Reading about it and looking at pictures. The few times I’ve been to big galleries and seen really important work, it’s completely changed how I felt about it. The first time I was in Chicago and I went to the Art Institute and I was looking at the modernist galleries and there was a Robert Morris painting. I’d seen it a hundred times before in books, but when i saw it in person I was just totally blown away by it. It was just incredible. It was an awesome experience because it goes to show that you’re really missing a lot by seeing things second-hand.
How do you keep yourself current?
I have a lot of artist friends, friends that are working artists, friends that are in school–it’s all about just hearing about things. Every once in a while I’ll find something on my own. It’s mostly through talking with people. There isn’t a website or a publication that I go to find things, really. There’s Facebook, I network with a lot of artists on that. There’s a huge community of painters, specifically, who will post things and then I’ll check out their name. I’m always asking who people are looking at. People will see you at work and be like “oh, you should look at this person.” Stuff like that.
How are people seeing your work?
I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. One thing that gives me confidence is that most of the people that seem to be excited about my work and really enjoy it are artists whose opinions I value. People who I think know their shit, and that’s awesome. I was so flattered when I was in Chicago one time to see TJ’s MFA show, and there was a ton of students and faculty from the school and he had two or three of my paintings, and they were all about my stuff. It was a huge ego stroke. (Laughing) That’s something that makes me feel good about what I’m doing. It’s huge when somebody really likes your work. It’s hard. Especially with what I’m doing lately, I would want people to appreciate it not because they thought it was pretty or beautiful, but more interesting. That’s a hard question. I don’t know how people perceive me. A lot of people just kind of pat you on the back, but you don’t know if they understand what you’re doing or not.
Is that important for you for people to understand?
Kind of, yeah. Not to totally understand it, but that’s really the only way to appreciate it. Is to try to understand it. It doesn’t just give itself away immediately. Or at least maybe think that it’s clever. As long as people see the work, that’s all that matters, really. That means that they’re in an art gallery. That’ s a good thing.