5 Questions with 'mini worlds' artist Christopher Torrez - East Valley Tribune: Events

5 Questions with 'mini worlds' artist Christopher Torrez

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Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 5:59 am | Updated: 3:59 pm, Sun Jan 27, 2013.

If art can be a window to the world, a new art show in Mesa gives a peek at six teeny, tiny and very specific realms.

“Habitations,” by Christopher Torrez, will debut along with four other visual arts exhibitions at reception starting 6 p.m. Jan. 25 at Mesa Contemporary Arts, the museum at Mesa Arts Center.

The event is free and open to the public. Guests will be able to check out the art exhibitions, enjoy live music and purchase drinks at a bar.

Torrez, 33, nabbed the museum’s 33rd annual Contemporary Crafts Juror’s Choice Award in 2012, an honor given each year to the standout artist of MCA’s benchmark exhibition. The 2013 Contemporary Crafts display will premiere Friday alongside Torrez’s show.

The artist, a brand-new Arizona State University master’s of fine art graduate who works out of a backyard studio, chats with us about his captivating little creations.

Q: Give us an overview of the art you make.

A: I make miniature landscapes entirely out of clay and ceramic materials. They are made by hand using delicate tools, magnifying lenses, a lot of light and steady hands. Most range about the size of the palm of your hand, complete with trees, leaves, rocks and grass. Trees are about 3 to 4 inches tall, and each contains 500 to 600 leaves with vein lines in each individual leaf, to get a sense of detail.

They are usually not colored, just the plain white of the porcelain clay, similar to the clay that teacups and dinnerware are made out of. Landscapes generally take two to four weeks to construct and are then put into a kiln where they are ‘baked’ at a very high temperature — about 2300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Q: What do you imagine is going on in these little places?

A: Some pieces play with optical illusions and light, using mirrors and lenses to see them; others simulate weather phenomena, such as rain or dust storms.

Q: How did you get started inventing your tiny universes?

A: I was very much motivated by the natural history museum, playing with train sets and Micro-Machines cars when I was little, creating small worlds in my imagination.

About four years ago, I was creating life-sized dioramas out of ceramic-made plants, hundreds of pounds of dirt and giant photographs. I then took (a) workshop with artist Richard Notkin and, after a talk, we thought it would be a cool idea to make small landscapes entirely out of clay to explore new diorama designs. After building my first prototype, it became clear that instead of 3-D sketches, they were amazing pieces themselves.

Q: You stood out in 2012’s Contemporary Crafts show, and you get to come back this year with your own solo exhibition as a result. What did you submit for the win?

A: (T)hose pieces were (my) first finished miniature landscapes with environments. ‘Progressions’ is in a vitrine (a glass-paneled cabinet or case) and has LED arrays that light the landscape from above, mimicking daily light changes, and a bottom array lighting a pool from healthy to toxic colors. It is controlled by programmed microcomputers. That piece is currently on display at Tempe Center for the Arts Gallery.

‘Liquefaction’ is in a melting landscape in a vitrine that uses two-way mirrors. This makes the pieces reflect infinitely inside the vitrine in all directions.

Q: Did you start out pursuing a career as an artist, or did this path evolve for you?

A: I played with clay in sculpture classes in high school and always loved it, a lot of the time doing things similar to what I do now.

Then, I went to the University of Colorado for geology. I loved science, in particular Earth processes and volcanology, but I found it was more interesting to create rocks than study them after trying an introductory (pottery) class.. I got hooked on clay and switched majors.



What: Five exhibitions, including Mesa’s longtime annual Contemporary Crafts show, debut amid a festive reception with music and a cash bar.

When: Reception is 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25. Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Where: Mesa Contemporary Arts at Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.

Cost: Free admission to reception and museum

Information: (480) 644-6560 or or MesaArtsCenter.com, click on “Museum”

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