The canvas is a void. It is the task of the artist to fill that void with light and form and atmosphere, with wisdom and challenge, with thunderous noise and breathtaking silence, with the glory of heaven and the horrors of hell, and with all the infinite variety and nuance of the human condition. The goal is to create works of art that are able to reach out of the canvas and touch the viewer, to move them in a profound way.
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My remarks at Frank Mason's memorial service
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Some artists paint in prose, some paint in poetry. Some artists paint facts, some paint metaphor. Some artists paint light and shade, some paint luminosity. Some artists paint space, some paint atmosphere. Some artists design, some compose. Some artists paint tones, some paint color. Some artists paint what they see, some paint what they perceive. Some paintings speak, some sing. Some artists paint to live, some artists live to paint.....
Luminosity, atmosphere, poetry, craftsmanship, joy, life. These are the cast of characters in my paintings. Most artists use light, color and design to express what they want to say about the objects in their paintings, I do just the opposite in my work. I use subject matter, apples, flowers, trees, mountains, portraits and nudes to explore the possibilities of light and space and poetry. Some artists paint in prose, some paint in poetry. There are artists who feel the more details they paint, the more accurately they describe something, the more successful their painting will be. Others, like myself, prefer to express things in the most elegant way possible. Often it is not what is said but how it is said that makes a painting successful. Some artists paint facts, some paint metaphor. Many artists say what they need to say very directly so that the viewer cannot misinterpret their work. I like to have an air of mystery about my paintings. There are often layers of meaning or multiple possible interpretations. Some artists paint light and shade, some paint luminosity. Light and shadow are necessary to define what we are looking at and reveal form. Luminosity not only describes the light striking the object but explores the quality of the light. The objects in the painting become not only lit but illuminated. Light creates the life force in the painting and should not be treated carelessly. Some artists paint space, some paint atmosphere. In order to paint an object well an artist must paint not only what they see but also what they can't see, like the space between and around objects. Many artists don't paint space at all, the good ones use it to give their paintings depth, the best artists give that space character, make it atmospheric, use it to enhance the mood in the painting. Some artists design, some compose. There are artists who design their painting to fill the picture plane in a pleasant manner from left to right, top to bottom. Those who compose are concerned not only with the picture plane but also the space behind it, moving in and out of the painting using rhythm and dynamics. Some artists paint tones, some paint color. For some time now there has been a school of painting that tries to faithfully match the tone on their palette to the object in front of them. Tonalism describes the object adequately but doesn't convey much about its character. Color can give those objects breadth and personality and bring them to life. Some artists paint what they see, some paint what they perceive. Most artists paint exactly what they see with their eyes. I prefer to paint using all of my senses. If the viewer feels like they can taste or smell or touch the object in the painting their experience will be richer. Some paintings speak, some sing. I think of my paintings as musical compositions. I don't often tell stories with my work. The content is less narrative, more poetic, less illustrative, more evocative. Some artists paint to live, some artists live to paint. I know artists who are very talented but have no idea what to paint. They will produce whatever the market demands. I have things I want to do, to say, to express with my work. One critic noted my boundless enthusiasm for both my subject matter and for the visceral act of applying brushwork. Sometimes I think if I cut my finger I would bleed linseed oil.
When people ask me to define my painting style I tell them I am a liberal classicist. Current trends and pop culture are interesting and occasionally inform my artistic vision but I am wedded to the idea of embracing the long held principles of classical painting. I find the tendency to recreate Old Master paintings repellent however, and have no desire to paint lutes or Roemer glasses. Nor do I want to return to the 19th century and paint nymphs and fairies or women in white dresses strolling through dewy meadows. It is the quality and techniques, beauty and power, of classical painting that I find so compelling. I strive, however, to make paintings that are thoroughly modern. Brahms and Rachmaninoff held to classical principles in their music but it never sounded like Bach. Likewise I would be shocked if an expert mistook one of my paintings as a long lost work by Rubens. Critics and curators writing about my work have summed it up quite nicely. Judy Burke, art critic for the New Haven Register, begins her review of my solo exhibition "Thomas Torak clearly loves to paint. Inspired by the commonplace, those familiar everyday objects that surround him, Torak paints with a vigor that speaks of enthusiasm for both his subject matter and for the visceral act of applying brushwork. Straightforward and direct," she continues, "with minimal brushstrokes, these works achieve a fresh and assertive fluidity, the tightly balanced passages of color and physical buildup of brushwork achieving a lively painterliness." Robert Kurtz, exhibition curator for the 61st Midyear Exhibition of The Butler Institute, noting my The Morning Newspaper in the exhibition catalog wrote "Characteristic of his quality work, he juxtaposes a frenzied, liquid brushstroke within what is actually a very tightly defined staging...Through the use of his expert, frenetic painting technique, he has transformed a contemplative moment into one of quiet liveliness." Quiet liveliness, lively painterliness...poetry, craftsmanship, joy, life.
Thomas Torak is a nationally known artist whose work has been seen in over 300 juried and invitational exhibitions. In the fall of 2008 he was hired as an instructor of portraiture and figure painting at the Art Students League of New York. His paintings have been recognized with the American Artists Professional League Medal of Honor at their 66th Grand National Exhibition; the Audubon Artists Gold Medal of Honor at their 59th Annual Exhibition; the Allied Artists of America Silver Medal of Honor at their 93rd Annual Exhibition, the Academic Artists Gold Medal at their 61st National Exhibition of Contemporary Realism and the Honor Award for Oil at the Academic Artists Association's 50th and 54th National Exhibitions, the Frank C. Wright Medal of Honor at the 2005 American Artists Professional League Summer Members Exhibition and Best of Show at the 8th Annual National Small Oil Painting Exhibition in Wichita, KA. He has received the top awards at the Salmagundi Club in New York at their Thumb-Box Exhibition and a special members exhibit of Flowers. His painting, The Artist, was purchased by the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, LA for their permanent collection.
Thomas began studying at the Art Students League of New York in 1974, studying the first year with Robert Beverly Hale and the next seven years with Frank Mason. Under Mason he learned not only the art of painting but also the craft. He prepares his own canvas, mediums and varnishes and uses only hand ground paint, often grinding the colors himself. A difficult and time consuming task, abandoned by most contemporary artists, but vital to the quality of his work. The methods and techniques he employs are those of the Old Masters but his paintings are decidedly contemporary. Many of his still lifes contain timeless subject matter such as fruit and flowers, but in others you will find more modern objects such as pizza, comic books or baseball mitts. Landscapes are often inspired by walks near his Vermont home or a stroll along the Maine coastline.
He has been elected to membership in the National Arts Club, the Salmagundi Club, the American Artists Professional League, Allied Artists of America, Audubon Artists, the Academic Artists Association, and signature membership in Oil Painters of America. His paintings have been seen at the Butler Institute of American Art, the Springfield Museum of Fine Art, the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, the San Diego Art Institute, the National Academy Museum, and the Chautauqua Art Galleries.
Fruit Basket and Peonies
30 x 34 Oil on Linen
Upcoming Events and Exhibits
HUDSON VALLEY ART ASSOCIATION 81st ANNUAL JURIED EXHIBITION Lyme Art Association Gallery 6/14/2013-7/28/2013 Reception: 6/21/2013 (5-7 pm)
ACADEMIC ARTISTS ASSN 63rd NATIONAL EXHIBIT OF CONTEMPORARY REALISM Vernon Community Art Center 7/21/2013-8/10/2013 Reception: 7/21/2013 (1-4 pm)
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