The sumptuously rolling countryside near Capula, Michoacán.
Juan Torres, one of Mexico's most prominent working artists, has made his home in Capula, Michoacán for the last quarter century. Michoacán is fortunate that he chooses to live and work here, and his inspiration and images come most often from the history, landscapes, and people of the region.
Maestro Torres says that he never made a conscious decision to become an artist; from an early age, he simply was an artist. At the tender age of ten, he went to Morelia's Escuela Popular de Bellas Artes (School of Fine Arts) "just to draw", and one of the teachers suggested that he enroll as a student at the school. "At that time there were no requirements that a student had to have completed elementary school, or junior high or high school--you just went and signed up. So I signed up. Like every other child in the world, I drew. The difference is, I never stopped drawing. One day, much to my amazement, I realized that there was a profession that would let me keep doing what I loved. And so I began my work as an artist."
Maestro Juan Torres regards one of the catrinas de barro (clay skeleton figures) that he designed more than 35 years ago. Torres' designs for these figures are based on the late-19th Century drawings of José Guadalupe Posadas, a Mexican political cartoonist of the manners and mores of the Porfiriato (presidency of Porfirio Díaz, 1876-1911). Maestro Torres was the first artist to take Posadas's catrinas from pen-and-ink drawings to three dimensional work in clay.
Alfredo Zalce, "Gente y Paisaje de Michoacán" (Michoacán people and landscape), mural fragment, 1962, Palacio de Gobierno (Government Offices), Morelia, Michoacán.
One of Torres' profoundest influences at the beginning of his career was the legendary Michoacán artist Maestro Alfredo Zalce. Zalce (1908-2003) took the young Torres under his wing and made him his right arm. Once Torres finished school, he lived and worked for years at Zalce's studio. "One way of learning art is, of course, imitating the teacher's work. It's a way of growing as an artist, and art is a job that requires growth or the artist stagnates."
The chapel on Maestro Torres' property serves as his gallery; unlike the gallery, his studio is connected to the home that Torres shares with his wife, Velia Canals Henríquez. Today, Sra. Canals is in charge of the taller (workshop) where the Torres-designed catrinas and other clay figures are produced.
Panteón de Capula (Capula Town Cemetery), oil on fabric, 1 meter X 1.5 meters, Juan Torres. Expo Noche de Muertos, Galería Secretaría de Turismo (Gallery of the Secretary of Tourism), Morelia, Michoacán, November 2010.
"Many people think that the artist's life is bohemian--that it's all about sitting around in cafés, waiting for inspiration to strike. A long time ago, someone gave me the advice that an artist has to work like the rest of the world. If it's at all possible, the artist needs to work at his art eight hours a day. How can it be to wait for the muse, then to paint one painting a year, and still expect to evolve? If that's how he works, then every time the artist picks up a brush, he has to start from zero."
"So I prefer that people know me as someone who works in the arts. And that's what I do: I work at my job every day. Recently I've had this Noche de Muertos exhibit at the Secretaría de Turismo, and I'm working toward another exhibit in Morelia, this time about women in the Mexican revolution. I have about 30 paintings completed in that series, 30 of the 40 that I need to fill the exhibit. So every day, I work."
Angelito (Little Angel), oil on fabric, 1 meter X 1.5 meters, Juan Torres. Expo Noche de Muertos, Galería Secretaría de Turismo (Gallery of the Secretary of Tourism), Morelia, Michoacán, November 2010.
Ofrenda con Cristo (Alter with Crucifix), oil on fabric, 1 meter X 1.5 meters, Juan Torres. Expo Noche de Muertos, Galería Secretaría de Turismo (Gallery of the Secretary of Tourism), Morelia, Michoacán, November 2010.
Panteón (Cemetery), oil and watercolor, 40cm X 90cm, Juan Torres. Expo Noche de Muertos, Galería Secretaría de Turismo (Gallery of the Secretary of Tourism), Morelia, Michoacán, November 2010.
Portions of this article are translated from a piece which originally appeared in the magazine Estilo México, July 2010.
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