Neoteric Art: Give us some background history on yourself.
Luis De La Torre: I was born in McAllen, TX but spent the first seven years of my life in Mexico. It was there that I first started to paint and really get curious of the possibilities of paint. After arriving in Chicago I continued to paint and really never thought of going into any other profession so I always planned on furthering myself as an artist.
NA: You graduated from the American Academy of Art in Chicago in 1994. Describe your overall experience during your time there and the most important memory that you still carry with you.
LDLT: I always loved the American Academy of Art; I would always visit friends who attended the school and would always be fascinated at the paintings and drawing in all the hallways. When I finally attended the school it was very difficult because the nature of the Academy—it was sink or swim—but I was able to gather myself after awhile and really take advantage of the atmosphere. The school was also in a transitional period. I was very lucky to attend at the time because of the fact that all of the “old school” instructors were still there teaching like Dr. Trapp and of course Irving Shapiro who I was lucky enough to have for two years.
One of my greatest memories of attending the school is the critique I received from Professor Shapiro on the last day of my first semester. Professor Shapiro was known for his gut wrenching critiques but he was also positive and always very informative. Well, it was the last day of my first semester and I was going through some challenging times in my personal life; I did not have my best work for the critique. It just so happened that it was Professor Shapiro’s birthday and some of the students decided to bring in a cake to celebrate. Shapiro called me out to see what I had been working on, so I brought my work up to his desk and as I sat there he meticulously looked through the work. When he finished he took off his glasses and thought for a second then he turned to me and said “ I don’t have anything positive to tell you about this work…if it were the first week of the semester I would have a lot to be encouraged but it is the last day of the semester and there’s not much I can tell you about what you’ve done”. Then he asked me what my plans for the next semester were. I answered that I planned to enroll in his class but that now I didn’t think it was a good idea to which he responded that he was going to enroll me in his class himself and he advised me to clear my mind and continue to work through the summer. Although “clearing my mind” seemed very simple it was what I needed at the time and remains to this day some of the best advice I ever received.
NA: Discuss your thought/work process when starting a new piece.
LDLT: I work very intuitively so there isn’t just one way I begin making work. At one point of my career I would put myself through sleep deprivation exercises to get myself closer to my direct stream of consciousness and tap into the fluid creativeness that I felt would come from my sub-conscious or as close as I could get to it. I felt that I accomplished a huge part of my creative goals through these exercises but there are dangers to depriving yourself of sleep for three to four days at a time so I won’t be committing myself through any deprivation cycles for awhile.
I often find that different techniques such as meditation, which is very effective in clearing all the clutter in my mind, enables me to “let myself go”. This is one of the reasons I love being an artist. A huge part of my motivation is process whether it’s the process of developing the work or the process of making the work it is all intertwined in my practice and it’s always evolving. I have found that my work has evolved tremendously since I began to “let go” and just trust the creative process.
NA: Your family moved to Chicago when you were seven years old and you still continue to live and work there. Do you consider yourself to be a “Chicago” artist? How would you describe the art scene in Chicago?
LDLT: I do consider Chicago my home and it is a wonderful city but I don’t think of myself as a “Chicago Artist”. I just can’t think of art as being regional especially in the modern world. Having exhibited outside Chicago and getting to see art and meet artists throughout the country and Mexico has opened my eyes to this.
As for the art scene in Chicago, it is very vibrant and diverse; I definitely feel it’s on the upswing. There are whole communities of artists springing up everywhere and it is great to see that my old neighborhood, Bridgeport, becoming an artists haven. I stumbled upon the building I’m in now about ten years ago and now the building has been renamed The Bridgeport Art Center with over forty artists in the building we’ve created a strong creative community. I feel that a sense of community helps because at times that is what gives artists a push to create.
NA: Your work has interesting title names: “Bonifacio”, “Odysseus and Tlaloc Reconsider Reality”, “Amor Profundo”… Elaborate.
LDLT: I don’t have a title in mind when I begin a piece— I like to live with the work for awhile and then they come to me. Usually they are very personal clues to my life. Take “Bonifacio” – the piece and series of work is very psychologically driven. It’s about how we as humans are driven by our sub-conscience and how things we have cemented in this layer of our mind seem to pop up unexpectedly. “Bonifacio” was my abuelo who at some point managed to make his way into a conversation I was having even though he had passed away years before I was born—he has a presence in my life. As for “Odysseus and Tlaloc Reconsider Reality”, that is about the journey of the work itself and how it has evolved over time. I found that since I really love mythology the best way of describing that journey through words would be this kind of “sit-down” of these great travelers in ancient mythology to have them discuss the frivolity of “reality” and rearrange it.
And finally, “Amor Profundo” is really about how emotions effect our decision making process for better or for worse. The piece is very “Mexican pop- art” it’s kind of designed as a “Loteria” card (the Mexican version of bingo) with a figure coming out of the deep sea carrying a person in a heart shaped submarine and all the while the figure is happy to have this accountability to sort of ground him.
NA: What and/or who has been a big influence on your work?
LDLT: I have had many influences through out my life from artists to machinists and carpenters. I have also been very lucky to have great mentors people who are not only amazing artists but wonderful human beings people like Francisco Toledo, Betty Cleeland and Carlos Estrada-Vega to mention a few. All these mentors have in their own way pushed me to get to the next level, not only in my work but also as a person.
NA: What are some of your short and long term goals/objectives when it comes to your “career” as an artist?
LDLT: I am very goal oriented so I can talk about this all day. The goals that stick out in my mind when anyone asks are the obvious ones such as – continue making work, exhibiting and so on but all these are the precursors to the main goal which in my mind is to be appreciated for your input to the overall society.
Saying that, my main goal is to keep making my work and letting it continue to evolve. Whether it’s in Chicago, Las Cruces, NM or even Tepic, Nayarit my focus will always be on my work. I do have plans of making a studio in Las Cruces so that I can escape the Chicago winters and spend time with my Mentor there so I am making it a goal to find a way to do that. And of course as an Artist one of my goals is to find places to exhibit my work I am going to try and get places on the west coast and east coast to exhibit my work, a sort of manifest destiny of the art world (you must never lose your sense of humor in this line of work).
My short terms goals are always very fluid. For one thing I’m always looking to organize myself better, the studio, my paperwork and so on. We are having an event for Chicago Artist Month at my building, The Bridgeport Art Center and I’m making an installation for a exhibit in Milwaukee that is kind of a fun thing but it still needs to get done.
This season I have been very fortunate to be invited to exhibit at Chicago State University as well as Kankakee Community College and a bunch of group exhibits including the “Not Just Another Pretty Face” show at the Hyde Park Art Center.