Painter, muralist, and songwriter Eloy Torrez says the classical arts, both art and music, have inspired him to evolve as an artist.
It is not that Torrez has a philosophy of the importance of classical methods or works, but that through his life, some exposure to classic works have sparked his growth as an artist.
As a child, Torrez was introduced to art through the religious paintings at the Catholic church he attended. He saw the Renaissance works of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphael.
The Renaissance artists not only demonstrated a high level of skill, but the religious figures they depicted also had an otherworldly quality, an internal light, which impressed Torrez when he was young, he said in a phone interview on Oct. 7, 2015.
The works projected “our vulnerability as humans,” he said.
He became interested in learning to draw the human figure very well and did. In fact, figure drawings and paintings have become his specialty.
But he also wanted his figures to project something: an emotion, feeling, or deeper psychological insight. In order to draw or paint human emotion, he needed to master the craft.
For his generation of artists, the classical ideal of discipline was important. One needed to master figure drawing, and then master drawing a figure in motion. “Can you capture this?” he would ask himself.
Torrez studied at the Otis Art Institute where he learned some classical methods of drawing like Rembrandt’s use of light and dark to draw the viewer’s eye.
He thinks that learning to master the human figure—the basic craft of drawing—is important, although he remains nonjudgmental about modern and abstract art. It’s important to learn the craft first and then “take it wherever you want.”
The craft took Torrez to the buildings of Los Angeles.
Torrez is best known in Los Angeles as a muralist, especially for his works of Hollywood icons. His portrait of Anthony Quinn in his “The Pope of Broadway” (1984) mural adorns the Victor Clothing Company building.
Although his “The Legends of Hollywood” (1983) was destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, his latest mural (with an addition in 2007) on the Hollywood High School, depicts 14 movie stars, most of whom attended the school.
Nowadays he devotes time to growing as an artist.
Finding New Inspiration
Torrez began his study of painting in 1972, but as a teen had been attracted to the wave of British popular musicians coming into the United States at the time: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and so on. A bit later, around 1980, he began writing introspective songs of a storytelling nature.
His music inspired his painting, and his painting has inspired his composing. Lately, though, classical music has been his greatest inspiration.
For the last three years or so, Torrez, now 61, has attended classical music concerts hosted by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. These concerts have inspired him to see parallels in structure between the two kinds of art.
“A main melodic line dances with and dances around another lines,” he explained, just as in art, figures can combine with or around other figures.
Also, he sees a similarity between the rests in music and the negative space on a canvas, around the figures in his works.
Having mastered a figure’s expression and movement, he wants to capture the totality of the figure and of the space in which it exists.
“Sounds like an obvious thing to understand as a painter, but for me, I’ve been primarily interested in the figures to the point of neglecting or not really understanding the importance of [the] space around them. Listening to classical music has gotten me to think more of the space around and in between the figures,” Torrez wrote in a follow-up email.
Artists, he says, continue to challenge themselves toward the goal of becoming a total artist, and in his case, the classics have continually allowed him to take the next step in his development.
In our series “The Classics: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” practitioners involved in the classical arts respond to why they think the texts, forms, and methods of the classics are worth keeping and why they continue to look to the past for that which inspires and speaks to us. For the full series, see ept.ms/LookingAtClassics