By Eva Mayhabal Davis
Mother Appetite is an ongoing theme in the figures and paintings by Jonathan Torres. The works are a series of visceral textures, saturated in sanguine colors and creatures that rise from an apocalyptic limbo, teleporting the viewer into another world that corroborates with reality, a minds’ eye, tall tales, and myths. In painting and sculpture, Torres combines elements of visual memory with a tactile sensibility that casts earthly creatures in a world that must reckon with horrors and paradise, not much different from reality. Rotten layers of paint and a heady atmosphere of tropical decay recall an all-too-familiar state of a socio-political nightmare that has been created by the distorted instinct of capitalist appetite and unrestricted ego of the modern world.
As an installation, Mother Appetite’s uncanny, deeply sensual aesthetic draws on the recollections of dark desires that one holds in secret, while simultaneously reflecting on the universality of even that which we so often experience in shame and isolation. This tension remains unresolved throughout.
The scene is set with a series of amorphous creatures and paintings, reveling in desire and guilt, very much like the retablo paintings that express desires and prayers in Catholic faiths across the Americas from the late 19th century to today. Each work is indulged as a momento mori, referencing biblical creation myths, tropical decay, and glimmers of hope where even thorns, piercing through withered environments, allow light to shine through. It’s within this landscape that Mother Appetite’s characters construct their opaque mirror of reality through solitary moments, reflections, and memories, conjuring an emotional geography of grief, love, gore, and beauty.
The sensation of the paintings draws from the uncanny, attracting viewers to reflect on what they want to see –their own monsters, pleasures, and truths. Emotional triggers at once warp time and confuse memory, reality, and new fictions as Torres entwines familiar memories: the cross at grandma’s house, the boogieman, el chupacabras, the fabric patterns of mother’s dress, the textures of pets, bushes on a beach, a secret garden. Much of Torres’ work is a mirror of Baroque aesthetics and religious iconography that considers disjointed memories of an esoteric and suffocating religious upbringing in the bloody shadow of Catholicism.
Exploring thematics of fact and fiction, Torres carefully considers imagery, historical references, and composition. The figures are in classical poses, and busts juxtapose their unpleasant yet beautiful state of coagulation as they set the table for Mother Appetite. Compositions stand in for imagery associated with holy mothers in the Catholic tradition, such as Mary and even saints with halos like Mother Theresa. The painted portraits feature distorted mouths, eyes and melting faces which are further textured; these layers give the viewer gore and chunks of decomposition of the body and a reflection of mortality.
The works’ sensory and emotional immediacy creates a kind of synesthesia that bridges imagination and sensation. Visual textures become palpable, cool color schemes saturated with fuchsias, marine blues, and deep crimsons evoke odors–of perfume, putrefaction, a landscape of memory individual to the viewer. Each figure is artificially textured with a variety of mediums that evoke skin, fur, feathers, and varieties of pus and blood. Each tender figure takes form with familial gestures, eyes, mouths, and heads assembled from wax, fiberfill, silicone, faux hair, lace, feathers, pigmented surfaces paint acrylic and oil. At once emerging from their world as strangers, they are perhaps closer to our own world, soon to be filled with post-apocalyptic, radioactive creatures. Torres lovingly welcomes these figures in the ugliness of their beauty.
Jonathan Torres relies heavily on intuition. Turning personal experiences into baroque tales of savage anguish using paint, photography, film, and sculpture. While he does not reveal the origin of his inspirations, viewers are captivated by the bizarre, yet strangely familiar stories discovered in these works. Paintings and sculptures hold a pulp quality of texture, bullish gestures and monstrous features — focusing on personal and universal mythologies.
Torres was born in San Juan, PR in 1983 and lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. His work has been recently featured in Flash Art, Beautiful Decay, Art Observed, among other publications. Nominee of the Joan Mitchell Foundation grant, Torres had been selected for the Biennale Mercosul (Brazil 2016), won the Charles G. Shaw Award (NY, 2012) and the Arcos Dorados Award (Argentina, 2011). His work will be featured in the upcoming Mecanismos section at MECA International Art Fair, November 21–24, 2019.
Eva Mayhabal Davis is the arts content editor at Culturework.