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Alicia H. Torres: The Eloquence of the Gesture

Alicia H. Torres at her studio. Background: Rain of Fish, 2010, mixed media on canvas, 36” x 48”. Photo Gary Mercer garymercerphoto.com © 2010.

Alicia H. Torres at her studio. Background: Rain of Fish, 2010, mixed media on canvas, 36” x 48”. Photo Gary Mercer garymercerphoto.com © 2010.

By Raisa Clavijo

In the last few decades, the artist Alicia H. Torres has developed an authentic and prolific oeuvre influenced by abstract expressionism and action painting as a means of breaking with the boring narratives of figuration and honoring the purity of the creative act. ARTDISTRICTS met with Torres at her studio in the Bakehouse Art Complex to talk about her work, career, and future projects.

Raisa Clavijo - In looking at some of your pieces, I see that through your work you reflect on your vital surroundings and social processes. What do you consider to be the conceptual basis for your work?

Alicia H. Torres - I paint what I feel, what I am. I celebrate life and the processes of human beings, with their defects and virtues. I question my surroundings. I admire and also criticize society, and I bring to my work the tropical colors that are part of my origins without losing the universality of the messages I wish to convey.

RC - Tell me a little about your professional training.

AHT - In art? It’s just that in addition to being an artist, I’m an educational psychologist. Well, I’ve loved art since I was a little girl. I think I was born to paint. I studied art history at the Institut La Pelouse in Bex, Switzerland; ceramics with Rafael Consuegra in his studio; painting with Baruj Salinas; and portraiture with Yovani Bauta at Miami Dade College. I have also taken some quick classes that have given me ideas and have served to nurture my creativity.

RC - Do you believe your work has conceptual ties to your native country and your Latin roots?

AHT - I believe so, because I have an objective attitude with respect to what happens not only in Colombia, my native country, but also in Latin America and the world. I take a position and reflect on reality. Art in general is a reply to the world on behalf of a society that provokes said reality.

RC - You have told me that you are preparing a series of works inspired by Barranquilla’s Carnaval. What will it consist of?

AHT - I’ll give you a brief explanation of that grand fiesta, which touches not only Barranquilla but the entire region on the banks of the Magdalena River and the Caribbean Sea. The central personage in this celebration is Joselito Carnaval, who is born, dies, and is reborn every year. The actors in this ludic theater are the very residents themselves, who dress up in different costumes and for four days euphorically transform the environment, filling it with music, masks, litanies, comedies, jokes, and rum. These magical, folkloric, and mythological festivities signify a recharging of energy, a new beginning, and a new hope. The magic that emanates is contagious and it is the only time of the year when everyone can reinvent a new life. The series will consist of paintings and installations and possibly other things that I don’t want to reveal yet. I think that the best time to hold this exhibition is next year in February during Carnaval, because as the saying goes, “He who lives it enjoys it.”

Alicia H. Torres. Icarus Fly, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”. Photo Oriol Tarridas
Alicia H. Torres. Icarus Fly, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”. Photo Oriol Tarridas

RC - Which artists or movements have influenced your style and your evolution as an artist?

AHT - The abstract expressionist movement and impressionism have had a major influence on me, but I don’t rule out works by other contemporary artists because they too nourish my work and boost my creativity. Among artists whose works I consider as having influenced my oeuvre are Pollock, Kandinsky, Still, Rothko, Motherwell, Hartung, Dubuffet, Picasso, Obregón, and Tàpies.

RC - You utilize a wide variety of pictorial techniques and materials. What are your preferred materials? Tell me a little about your creative process.

AHT - My creative process starts with a blank canvas, where everything begins with a trace, a line, or a stain. From that moment on, I give free rein to imagination, which is unleashed based on a current theme, a memory, or a message that comes to mind. I have no preconceived notion. I create textures with paper, modeling paste, canvas, cardboard, newspaper, iron, and/or earth. I complement my work with multiple layers of color, brushstrokes, and drips; my gestural and impulsive movements permeate it and endow it with my unmistakable hallmark. I like primary colors, perhaps as a result of my Caribbean background. With red I celebrate passion, life, and death. Blue is the sky, water, hope, and yellow is the sun, money, and light. Black and white give my presentation the final touch.

RC - What role does the public play in your work?

AHT - The public plays a very important role in my work because through spectators I grow as an artist. I hear messages that I hadn’t taken into account. They suggest new perspectives, which encourage my reflection on a certain theme. It is enriching to get to know the visions of people with cultural, professional, academic, social, and ideological differences who are united by something we all love: art. They sustain me and I consider it an honor to have them visit me at my studio in the Bakehouse or attend my exhibitions.

Alicia H. Torres. Passion, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”. Photo: Oriol Tarridas
Alicia H. Torres. Passion, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”. Photo: Oriol Tarridas

RC - What pieces are you working on at the moment?

AHT - At the moment, I’m working on a series of abstract paintings that I may call La alquimia de la abstracción mágica (The Alchemy of Magical Abstraction), based on Latin American myths, legends, and stories. This series of works has dreamlike, ludic, and above all symbolic aspects. I give free rein to imagination. I develop and update themes that are a part of Latin American idiosyncrasies. There are legends populated by heroes and gods, legends that configure those universes emanating from the mind’s mysterious force, in which the sacred and the profane are intermingled.

RC - You have been selected to participate in numerous international exhibitions and fairs around the world-in the first Sorocaba Biennial in Brazil (2007), in the Florence Biennial (2009), and recently in Art Shanghai 2010. What expositional projects do you have planned for the near future?

AHT - My upcoming projects are the group exhibition at the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Arts in Las Vegas in June and the one at the Broadway Gallery in New York in September 2010.

Alicia H. Torres Studio is located at Bakehouse Art Complex, Studio 33. 561 NW, 32nd Street, Miami, FL 33127. Visit her Web site at www.aliciahtorresart.com.

Raisa Clavijo is a curator and art critic. She is currently chief editor of ARTPULSE and ARTDISTRICTS magazines.