GOING BACK TO THE BEGINNING: Solo Show by Gabe Torres Opens on First Friday

The artist during her 2022 ON::View Residency at Arts Southeast when she invited fellow Savannahians to share memories and bring in "meaningful scraps" of fabric

One of the region’s most exciting contemporary artists is showing her work in a solo exhibition opening Friday, March 1 in the main gallery of Arts Southeast. Gabrielle Torres’ Wilton Street Rhythm, directly inspired by the music of American jazz trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis, harkens back to the moment she knew she would be an artist.

Torres explains that her show, “is about going back to the beginning. ..When I was first born in Philadelphia, we lived on Wilton Street. We would visit in the summer, and that’s where my mom discovered I was an artist. I remember it so vividly. I was seven. I drew the brownstones, I drew a table, and I drew a rocking horse.” Employing the correct perspective, she rendered each object perfectly and her mother, recognizing her daughter’s ability, knew it had to be nurtured and encouraged.

After a brief chat with Torres’ husband Brian (the former co-owner of Fork & Dagger who was recently profiled by fellow columnist Neil Gabbey), I meet the artist in her home-based studio. Having just moved to a new home off President Street, packing boxes and moving crates still litter the driveway, and inside, things seem a little chaotic. But, somehow, this strikingly beautiful mother, SCAD painting professor, and working artist has found the time and energy to convert their garage into her studio and is finishing up work for two solo shows – the upcoming Savannah installation and a painting show at her Atlanta Gallery, September Gray Fine Art, which opens this spring.

Torres, born in Philadelphia and raised in Sumter, SC, received a BA in Visual Arts from Greenwood, SC’s Lander University in 2012 and an MFA in Painting from SCAD in 2021. While earning her MFA she interned with celebrated Savannah-based artist Suzanne Jackson (b.1944) whom she discovered in 2019 by visiting her retrospective show, Five Decades, at the Jepson, and who continues to inspire her. In 2022, she was the recipient of an ON::View Residency at Arts Southeast where she had previously worked as an intern.

The nonprofit’s Gallery Director Jon Witzky tells me, “Arts Southeast has worked with Gabe in one capacity or another for several years now, so we know her and respect her mode of working and the thought that she puts into her art. Gabe's work is utterly unique in Savannah - she has been weaving together complex ideas such as family, history, and politics and representing them through painting and fibers. For Wilton Street Rhythm, Torres is embracing something that has always existed right on the periphery of her practice - music! It's exciting to see the ways that rhythm, repetition, tone, and texture are coming together in this body of work.”

As the artist's statement on her website declares, “There is a particular magnetic pull towards materiality. I tend to hold on to things that others might throw away, creating work from everything from my kids’ outgrown clothes to non-decomposing plastic bags…When constructing paintings, I overlay fabric swatches, painting in lucid brushstrokes, giving the material a chance to breathe.”

click to enlarge GOING BACK TO THE BEGINNING: Solo Show by Gabe Torres Opens on First Friday
Beth Logan
Torres in her studio

In her garage-turned-studio we are surrounded by bolts of material and containers of fabrics -  her grandmother’s nightgowns, dresses her mother made her when she was little, tulle from her wedding dress sewn by her mother. Meanwhile, the tumble dryer spins freshly dyed material which she will include in a new “loom painting” – made by weaving fabric on a hand-built loom and incorporating a variety of textiles and textures.

Torres says she was already getting away from using a traditional substrate of wood, paper, or canvas when she interned with Suzanne Jackson and was moving towards the upcycled materials she now favors. It was SCAD Professor Todd Schroeder who first noticed her loom work and who, along with Professor Greg Eltringham, encouraged its development. She says that working on cataloging Jackson’s extensive body of work gave her the perspective to see how one’s art must develop and change before it can flower into maturity. She enrolled in some fiber classes and got comfortable with first making “ugly” work as she began to develop her own processes and techniques.

click to enlarge GOING BACK TO THE BEGINNING: Solo Show by Gabe Torres Opens on First Friday
Gabrielle Torres
"Milestones"
Torres debuted Wilton Street Blues at Lander University’s Art Gallery last summer but tells me she is creating three or four new pieces for Arts Southeast. She says, “I put on music and pick out my color schemes” before embarking on precisely pairing the painting with a song and its emotions. Torres always plays music as she creates, “I have ADD. My mom recognized that when I was little, and whenever I needed to focus on something she would play classical music.”

“Jazz helps me to get me in the zone,” she tells me…this body of work was directly inspired by the Miles Davis albums “Bitches Brew,” “So What,” “Miles Ahead,” and others. It came about “after creating work that was very concept-heavy, emotionally heavy, draining and taxing.” She is referring to her thesis show Question Everything which focused on how the structures of colonialism have impacted our belief systems and every aspect of our society. The research and work affected her to such a degree that she went to therapy over the next summer to “unpack all of that” and then made a very conscious decision to “get back to my happy, vibrant, positive style of being.”

Torres began a methodical exploration of how the materials in her loom paintings speak to each other and create their own rhythm and explains that the Wilton Street work is about going back to the beginning, de-compartmentalizing, and de-colonizing as it were…Going back to that seven-year old’s innocence when her “strong, determined and powerful single mother” recognized her daughter was an artist.

click to enlarge GOING BACK TO THE BEGINNING: Solo Show by Gabe Torres Opens on First Friday
Gabrielle Torres
A loom painting with plants

Torres acknowledges that it can be intimidating to curate and hang her finished work as the fabric can be bent and molded to protrude out from the wall – it will never be shown in quite the same way twice. Additionally, all the loom paintings include live plants (pockets sewn on the back hold soil, or jars hold water). In the Question Everything pieces she incorporated ivy “because ivy is something that’s also been uprooted and brought to this country. It’s invasive here.” But for this new show, she has chosen Golden Pothos, a plant whose resilience she sees as symbolizing growth, hope, and transcendence.

The artist urges us to see Wilton Street Rhythm because “it’s visceral, it’s tactile, it’s immersive…There will be jazz music playing… Everyone should be able to interpret the work in their own way.” Community members and friends brought fabric to Torres during her residency at Arts Southeast, and now she encourages them to come to her exhibition to see if they can locate pieces of their donated material in this new and hopeful body of work.

Gabrielle Torres’ Wilton Street Rhythm opens in the main gallery of Arts Southeast, 2301 Bull Street, on Friday, March 1 from 5-9pm in conjunction with First Fridays in Starland. There will be a closing reception on Friday, April 5 and an artist talk on Saturday, March 30 at 2 pm. More information is available at artssoutheast.org  Follow the artist on Instagram @get.arttorres and visit her website at gabrielleelizabethtorres.com

Beth Logan

Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Beth Logan had a career in healthcare HR and marketing. An artist and former gallery director, she serves on the board of nonprofit ARTS Southeast and has a passion for showcasing Savannah’s arts community.
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