I love it when artists contact me and ask me to look at their work. That’s exactly what Los Angeles-based Nestor Toro did and I’m very glad. He’s a cool, abstract expressionist artist www.nestortoro.com who has traveled through South America and the spirit of both Americas live in his work. Here’s our cool chat.
“In this world of disposable everything, 30-second attention spans, and 140-character communicating, I think that art still bucks the system! It can still make people stop, grab their attention and visually take them to another place.”
MICHAEL: Nestor, I love your work and you seem to be prolific already at your age. I really love your works on paper. Do you approach your abstracts differently on paper compared to those on canvas?
NESTOR: Hello Michael, Thank you very much for having me on your fantastic site! Interesting question, well, I approach working on paper more from the colors perspective than shapes. The process of getting the paper ready, stretched and arranged is more structured than working on canvas. Most of my paintings on paper are watercolor which requires more patience and technique. Working on paper allows me to venture into unknown territory and later on apply new ideas on a bigger scale which is why I also enjoy painting on big canvases. When I first started painting, I had a watercolor set and since then, I have work on pastel, washable oils, graphite and acrylics. When I finally got to work on canvas, somehow I felt very familiar and comfortable with the new surface.
MICHAEL: Don't your canvas works require more technique? I mean, isn't technique on canvas easier to see, given the larger size? Also, do you carry out the same ideas on paper and canvas?
NESTOR: Working on a bigger scale takes more thought and a bit more planning. Iactually meant more structure on paper as far as the process of getting the surface ready. I always make sure I have at least an idea about the basic shapes I will be working on. For instance, organic shapes as opposed to geometrical. I get to pick the colors and part of the planning is to find pigments that are as translucent aspossible because I love layers! I mainly use acrylics while painting on canvas which is very exciting, as I also like to combine other mediums like clear tar gel, ironoxide and iridescent mediums which I have to use in almost all my paintings. When I have tried to replicate some painting that I really like, I feel there is a lack of spontaneity. All of my work is somehow connected and definitely some of the ideas carry through. On canvas you can always go back and paint over for light, contrasts, etc., and on paper, not so much. Let’s say I love painting on both materials and even once or twice I have combined both just for fun!
MICHAEL: Jackson Pollock is clearly an influence for you. Do you also paint on the floor? Also, what do you bring to abstraction that makes your work different from other abstract expressionists?
NESTOR: As much as I like Pollock’s work, I am somehow more influenced by a mix of Kline, Kandinsky and a touch of Pollock. My changes in simultaneous contrasts and colors are very much part of my signature style. I paint often on the floor, but most of the time, on the same table which I also use as my mixing tray since I mix all the color as I go along. A very important part of my creative process is that I don’t put a deadline and I am very open to work on the canvas and let it flow until I am satisfied with the piece.
What sets me apart from others? Well, I approach each one of my works with an inspiration or experience of my travels. I have thousands of pictures that I have taken and they are actually part of my archive of ideas. I focus on a small detail of that experience/mental image and expand on that. So what I bring is the unique combinations of my techniques combined with the unique experiences from my travels, including my living for six years out of the United States in Argentina. I wasout of the country for a full six years. I didn’t even come back for a visit, so it really changed me and gives me a unique perspective that I have incorporated into my abstract works.
MICHAEL: Wow. Argentina for six years? What's Argentina like? Is there a strong art community there? What did you take away that experience?
NESTOR: I have always been very passionate about travel and South America is one of my favorite places to visit. It was there where I first started getting in touch with my creative side. I remember seeing the beautiful landscape of Rio de Janerioand wanting to say something about it. That’s when I felt the need to write and later on, I never left my place without my camera. I lived there for a full year and it was amazing. I bought colorful tropical fruits in the park in front of my apartment in Rio. I also bought fresh flowers from a vendor there; strange exotic shapes I have never seen since. The beach, flowers and friendly people were all an inspiration there! Later on when we (my partner and I) had the opportunity to live in Buenos Aires, it was great. We had visited before and the city is alive with a creative vibe. It’s a huge, urban city filled with chaos and energy; very different from Rio. Rio is a magical place with the mountains and beach, but it’s very laid back. In Buenos Aires, it seems that everybody there is somehow involved in art. Fashion, street art, galleries - In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen so many art supply stores in one city. I think there is one on every block and I have never seen so many people walking around with art materials and big portfolios.
It was in Buenos Aires, that first year that I got my first paper pad and watercolor set. My painting just evolved from that point until I was painting larger and larger canvases and a few years later, I had the chance to have my first group show with three of my canvas paintings! I was just inspired to create there. It is really an amazing place that I can’t wait to visit again!
MICHAEL: I've always felt that Latin American/South American art - more than any others - are pushing all contemporary art forward. I can just feel it happening. I think there's an insight, spirit and vitality to it that remains unmatched. What do you think?
NESTOR: Yes, I completely agree with you about that! Being from Puerto Rico, I can tell you that art and expression seem to go hand in hand with the culture. I think there is more of a sense of freedom when it comes to art. People seem less contrived and open to experiment and challenge what is already out there. In Latin America, people tend to honor and carry their traditions in pretty much everything they do.
No matter where you go you in Latin cultures, you see artist expression. I was last year in Medellin, Colombia and I went to the Botero plaza. There are many, big, bronze sculptures of oversized people mixed with the folklore, the greenery and the amazing mountains. It was a beautiful sight.
MICHAEL: I bet. Do you come from an artistic family? What's your first memory of art? When did you become an artist?
NESTOR: My family is a very artistic family. There are some musicians, playwrights and others in artisan stuff like clay. My mother was an art teacher and a florist and my father owns a fiberglass company. My mother was always creating and making these beautiful flower arrangements which are art in themselves, in my opinion. My father worked with fiberglass and would make custom molds for anything and that takes a lot of skill. Although I grew up around creativity, it wasn’t until later in my 20’s that I got very much into art, and as I have told you, it was in Buenos Aires that my painting really developed into something “serious,” so I guess you could say that I have always considered myself artistic, but in Buenos Aires, I really became an “artist” in the more traditional sense.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world/art market and how they function today? What would you change if you could?
NESTOR: I wish there were more respect and acknowledgment for self-taught artists vs. academically-trained artists. Technique can be taught, but true artistic ability, you either have or you don’t. I am a self-taught painter and while I have certainly done independent study, most of the techniques that I use I developed naturally by trial and error and creative experimenting. I really think that is one reason that my art stands out as uniquely my voice and vision.
I really understand people who take time and put effort into creating beautiful work and other not so beautiful work. It is all personal expression. Not everyone is skilled at business and especially creative individuals. We are not always motivated by money. I do wish that there were more opportunities for emerging artists. It seems like the internet is changing a lot of the barriers for artists to show their work and to actually sell it. I know that my website lets people see more work, people who otherwise would never get a chance. I have exhibited at various shows, but haveyet to be in a gallery, so that is a goal I am working toward. I would really love to have a presence in both the real and the virtual world.
MICHAEL: Finally Nestor, Given what you've just said, how are you even surviving? Many if not most people don't appreciate art enough to actually buy it. What's the point? Why not just get practical and go to law school or get a real job?
NESTOR: Great question and certainly I am sure all artists would like to find a shortcut to the goal of being profitable immediately, but the truth is that it’s not easy. Materials cost money and then there is the time put in on the actual work itself, but to be honest, this is really what I want to spend my time doing. I am lucky to have a great partner and we are very supportive of each other and one another’s passions. He’s very understanding and helpful especially when I get discouraged or frustrated. It’s not easy to be a profitable working artist certainly, but I know that with drive and motivation it can be done. I am not there yet, but I am learning more and more about the “business” of art and I am understandingthat to be successful, an artist must really work not only on their craft, but also the business end of it.
In this world of disposable everything, 30-second attention spans, and 140 -character communicating, I think that art still bucks the system! It can still make people stop, grab their attention and visually take them to another place. I guess that having my art sort of “born” in the crazy chaos of Buenos Aires helped me capture or harness the energy of that chaotic city that I felt all around me. I like to think that my art actually takes the viewer to another mental place or state of mind. If I can accomplish that in today’s crazy world, I think I have done my “job"! I also think that more and more people are appreciating art even in fast pasted urban environments where you see graffiti everywhere. Perhaps even more in cities where there are so many anonymous people - they want to be heard, to stand out from the pack as individuals.
Be a lawyer? Wow. Well, I am not putting them down, but I can’t imagine doing something like that day after day. I do have a college degree in a field unrelated to art. Besides, there’s no guarantee these days that going a more “traditional” route will bring you success and even if you do succeed, traveling the world and living long-term out of the country has shown me that there is more to life than money.As Grace Jones says in one of her songs, “This is my voice my weapon of choice” and that’s how I feel about being an artist and my work.
MICHAEL: Thanks Nestor. This has been a very cool chat.
NESTOR: Thanks Michael! It was fun putting into words things that I felt, but never really had to verbalize. Your website is really cool and it's a pleasure to be included in the roster of amazing and diverse artists you have interviewed.
Check out Nestor at www.nestortoro.com.