LACMA’s current exhibition Life Model: Charles White and His Students is presented at the former Otis College campus in MacArthur Park, now Charles White Elementary School where LACMA operates a satellite gallery.
Eloy Torrez (b.1954) is one of the 33 artists whose work is featured in Life Model, and during a recent walkthrough of the exhibition, Torrez spoke about how he came to be a student at Otis, his time there, and the early years of his artistic career.
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Torrez moved to Barstow in San Bernardino County with his family when he was 13 years old. From an early age he had a passion for drawing and his exposure to art began with the religious imagery he saw in his home states’ Catholic churches. While in Barstow, he enrolled at the local junior college, and his art teacher there exposed him to the cannon. He credits the eye-opening museum visits his teacher organized to LACMA and the Norton Simon as the impetus for him to consider the possibility of attending an art school in L.A.
With the assistance and encouragement of his art teacher, Torrez put a portfolio together and in 1977 he moved to Los Angeles and enrolled at Otis. As a teen he had often visited the library and read about artists who became apprentices to other artists and he felt Otis represented that possibility for him—he believed Otis would be his place to “learn to become.”
When Torrez arrived at Otis, figurative representation was going out of vogue. He was reflective during the recent walkthrough that while he was there he felt as if “painting was dead,” since his peers were exploring other modes of creative expression, such as video conceptual art installation. Throughout his time at Otis, Torrez continued to try to define his practice, and used figurative representation to inform issues of self and identity. Torrez was so known for his self-portraits that he fondly recollected about how one time when assisting Kent Twitchell with a mural, Charles White quipped to Twitchell that he be careful because Torrez might stick a self-portrait in the button area he was working on.
An admirer of White’s technical drawing skills, Torrez credits his teacher’s draftsmanship to be the largest influence to his practice. White was commissioned by the City of Los Angeles to create a mural for a Los Angeles Public Library named after Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune—the founder of the National Council of Negro Women—while Torrez was at Otis. He recalled having the opportunity to watch White’s process, from small preparatory sketches to larger ink and charcoal studies of the individual figures that would be represented in the final mural. While Torrez could not recall what he asked White, he remembered how drawn in he was by the scale of the work.
Torrez began working on mural restoration projects after graduating and soon after that he began large-scale commissions, starting with the Legends of Hollywood (1983) mural, which featured 1950s film legends. Upon completing the mural, Torrez felt like he’d missed an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of people of color. He was soon contacted by the owner of downtown’s old Victor Clothing Company, who tasked Torrez with creating a mural of a Latino actor since the majority of his clients were Latino. Torrez felt it was a moment for him to celebrate what he had not done before. The Pope of Broadway (1985) is Torrez’s most recognized mural and his portrayal of Mexican-born actor, Anthony Quinn stands a monumental 70 feet high. Torrez restored the mural back in 2017, and The Pope of Broadway Revisited—a short documentary created by Juliane Backmann—tells the story of the efforts of everyone involved in the multi-year project. Torrez still lives and practices in Los Angeles.
On Saturday, July 20, join Linda Jacobson, a practicing and exhibiting artist residing in Los Angeles, for a walkthrough of Life Model. Jacobson will share what it was like for her to be a student of White’s as his passion and enthusiasm for drawing, for art, and for the human soul were uniquely inspiring.
Charles White Elementary School is located at 2401 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90057. Enter the gallery at the corner of Park View and Wilshire Boulevard. Complimentary parking is available in the lot at 611 South Carondelet Street, between Wilshire and 6th Street. Please bring your parking ticket to the gallery for validation. Street parking is also available in the neighborhood.