Opening reception: June 3, 2017 6–8pm
Lora Reynolds is pleased to announce an exhibition of new paintings and drawings by Jim Torok—the artist’s seventh show at the gallery.
Jim Torok’s miniature portraits are incredibly lifelike. Oil paintings on panel, most are five inches high by four inches wide and an inch-and-a-half thick (although some are even smaller). For more than 20 years, he has been painting friends, artists, family, and himself in this mostly unwavering format—face forward, head and shoulders, neutral expression. Despite their diminutive size and his subjects’ lack of overt expression, Torok’s portraits are powerful (if subtle) exclamations of personhood.
Before starting a rigorous day’s work on his portraits, Torok makes a handful of loose drawings on copy paper—drawing in a style he began to develop as a child. He tries to let himself draw whatever is on his mind, no matter how ridiculous, to warm up his hand and mind. The drawings can be block-letter slogans (tender or aspirational, sarcastic or obscene), monologues by bald stick figures with oversized noses (self-deprecating self-portraits), or any sort of inventive and absurd doodle. In colored pencil or felt-tipped marker, Torok’s expressive cartoons form a surprising counterpoint to his hyperrealistic portraits. Yes, these two bodies of work are by the same artist.
The cartoons reveal some of Torok’s most intimate feelings and beliefs. He worries about not being smart enough, young enough, or good-looking enough. He marvels at the power of the internet but is ambivalent about his attachment to his smartphone. The new political order concerns him. Kindness and dream-chasing are virtues he reaches for. And tomorrow will be better. Surely.
This exhibition includes dozens of cartoons but only two portraits, both of which depict accomplished, extraordinary women—Mónica de la Torre and Alexa Wesner—whose work and values sometimes mirror Torok’s own.
De la Torre is a poet, scholar, and contributing editor to BOMB Magazine (which mostly features conversations between artists). The final lines of The Happy End/All Welcome, her recent collection of poems, are “…this was made but it / wasn’t written. // The next one up is in made-up tongues.” When asked about this concluding passage, de La Torre has said, “I struggle with endings. Pointing to what’s next was my way of (not) closing the book.” Her discomfort with finitude—and faith in the constancy of change—align with Torok’s optimistic gaze toward the future. One of his new cartoon drawings reads “Exciting New Day Ahead! (Get Ready).”
Alexa Wesner, on the other hand, was the American Ambassador to Austria until January 20 of this year. She was a tech executive and entrepreneur before moving into public service, founding five Texas-based organizations that promote progressive stances on issues including voter rights, affordable healthcare, income inequality, and LGBT rights. Wesner has served on the boards of nonprofits that empower young girls, create first-generation college graduates, and champion contemporary art. As Ambassador, she often spoke publicly about the the unlimited potential of creativity to move us toward a more just society—one in which we treat each other with grace, work together in hard times, and respect one another universally.
Who Torok chooses to paint and what his subjects symbolize are just as important as how he makes such virtuosic paintings or that his cartoons are so different from the portraits. Visual artists represent the majority of the people he has painted over the years, perhaps because he identifies with dreamers, idealists, and passionate, determined, thoughtful people. Artists are not the only ones who possess these qualities, of course; everyone stands to benefit from an enthusiastic belief in oneself, others, and the future, even amid the occasional flash of insecurity.
Jim Torok, born in 1954 in Indiana, lives and works in Brooklyn and upstate New York. Torok has had solo exhibitions at the Denver Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery (Washington D.C.), OMI International Arts Center (New York), Taubman Museum of Art (Virginia), and Ulrich Museum of Art (Kansas). He has participated in shows at the Blanton Museum of Art (Austin), Brooklyn Museum of Art, FLAG Art Foundation (New York), and Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati). His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and Museum of Modern Art (New York).