Reviewed by Erin Keever
While many exclusively seek the new and the slick, sculptor Gustavo Torres digs deep to unearth the past in his quietly primal bronze sculptures. Torres creates lonely forms from nature that are anonymous but varied, alone, but in groups. They are vaguely recognizable, as if from some distant and buried collective mythology.
A comparison between Torres' work and that of modern sculptor Alberto Giacometti is unavoidable. There are undeniable similarities between Torres' elongated human forms and Giacometti's trademark spindly figures. Both have corroded or rough surfaces. Both seem to dissolve into space.
Torres' sculptural surfaces are remarkably varied. Uneven qualities enliven the eye and contribute to our interpretation of the pieces as aged. Seemingly weathered by exposure to natural elements of wind, rain, and sun, Torres' pocked and mottled surfaces are expressive and beckon human touch. Luminescent patinas that gradually shift as they ascend the shapes of forms counter their course exteriors. Sturdy bronze material is lightened and mass is diminished through the artist's formal choices in form, texture and color.
Another difference between Torres's work and that of his predecessor is that instead of portraying man "walking" or "pointing" (for which Giacometti is well known), Torres typically erects his figures in upright and stationary positions. However, his latest works feature a newly acquired mode of travel.
While recent works still show standing figures, solo, or in strange groupings, they now are perched aboard crescent shaped boats. Figures' faces look in different directions as if searching for a place to land. Sometimes their cargo includes plants, branches or even at times, entire trees. Torres' boats recall Dante's Inferno in which the ferryman transports souls between two worlds. Throughout history boats have played a role in religion as a means to cross the sky and travel to the netherworld. Vikings used boat graves and the ancient Egyptians depicted boats in tomb decoration and buried real ones alongside pyramids.
In addition to funerary significance, of course boats can symbolize life's journey. The boat might represent a personal passage, creative crossing or emotional evolution. Signs of movement from the past can also be seen in an unusual work called Symbolic Form V.
This work mounts an outstretched disembodied wing on a boat base. Its indelible silhouette brings to mind the monumental Nike Alighting a Warship from Samothrace that sits atop the Louvre's staircase in Paris or the wings that Daedelus fashioned so he and his son Icarus could fly. Like with ancient Greece's Nike, one marvels at this wing's dynamic but graceful shape, its complexly feathered edge and exquisitely subtle coloring. The heavy metal medium looks as light as plaster. It is a simple but deeply resonant symbol of flight. Is it taking off or just landing? Motion seems frozen in time.
Both the boat and the wing relate to travel, but they are linked with Christianity as well. Wings are associated with Christian messengers or angels and allude to the wings of a dove, Peace or the Holy Spirit. Also, boats are seen in Christianity as vehicles for Christ and his disciples during miraculous events. The wing and the boat are apt symbols for Torres, who as a young artist in Mexico depicted overtly religious subjects. Nowadays his work is more mysterious. Spiritual themes are woven throughout, but not so overtly nor dogmatically that they preclude universal access.
Gustavo Torres was born in Guadalajara Mexico. At age 12, Torres became an apprentice to the sculptor Luis Larios and worked on commissions. After receiving his BFA at the University of Guadalajara, he moved to the United States in 1991 where he attended Monterey Peninsula College and pursued a career as an artist. His training includes a position as Metal Supervisor for full phase production including patinas, molds making, wax and metal finishing at the Artworks Foundry in Berkeley. He has also received numerous awards including the Gold Medal in national competition in Guadalajara. His work is collected widely and featured in the permanent collection of the Museum of Latin Art, Los Angeles, California. Torres lives and works in Northern California.