||By LIBBY MOTIKA
In the late 1890s, artist Elliot Torrey came out to Pasadena from his home town in New England, drawn to the light and landscape of the area. Nearly a century later, a distant relative, Dana Torrey, left his native Massachusetts and headed West, also to paint. Although he detoured to Pacific Palisades, Torrey was equally smitten by the Kodachrome intensity of the light in Southern California and began capturing it on canvas using the turn-of-the-century plein air approach in which artists abandoned the controlled environment of the studio.
Plein air is all about color, Torrey explains, "I splash my canvases with color-cyan, yellow, magenta-and from there work out the overall tone I'm looking for."
In his latest series of paintings, which he introduced at a private exhibition at Mayor Richard Riordan's Brentwood estate in June, Torrey offers portraits of Los Angeles and its environs, ranging from Palisades coastline (see page 1) and the Santa Monica Pier to City Hall and the Pacific Design Center. While his images remind the viewer of the plien air artists' fascination with the Western landscape, they have an added vision.
Fine featured with pale blue eyes, Torrey talks easily about his art, letting the listener in on the challenges and difficulties of his ideas.
"I looked over Los Angeles for two months, searching for the best structural images where I could combine the techniques of light, shade, haze and the color system that would work for me," said Torrey. He then took photographs of the landscapes and architectural shapes that interested him and that had similar landscape designs found in historic plein air paintings. "I combined them with my conceptual sketches in a notebook to plan out each of my paintings."
Torrey says that his original concept ultimately resembled very little of his original idea. "The paintings evolved to incorporate a stylized lushness and illusion of depth that I learned to create for movie sets and found in the images of the plein air painters."
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts in 1980 with a B.S. in plant science (Torrey pines are named after his relative, botanist John Torrey), Torrey changed direction and came out to Pasadena to study illustration at Art Center. Instead of drawing the intricate structures of plants, he focused his eye on commercial illustration. For the last dozen years he has worked as a freelance art director for advertising, features and television. Along the way he has always found time for is own painting. "I began painting at 8," he says. My mother paints so it's been a natural for me my whole life."
After selling over half of his paintings at his June show, Torrey is now learning the business intricacies of being an artist and has become absorbed in tying down schedule dates for upcoming shows, while preparing for his upcoming wedding to Riordan's daughter, Tricia.
With an exhibition planned for City Hall and for a gallery in Glendale, Torrey is ebullient, and things keep getting better.
"I received a phone call from Alden Pearce, Joan Irvine Smith's attorney, who was at the Riordan show," Torrey says. "He wanted some slides of my work which I sent to him. It looks like Joan Irvine is interested in my paintings and may want to give me a show." Joan Irvine has probably the biggest collection of plein air paintings in Southern California and owns the Irvine Art Museum.
"It's amazing how things work," said Torrey. "I knew in the back of my mind that I would like to have Joan Irvine look at my work, but I hadn't gotten very far. Then, unexpectedly, her lawyer shows up at the exhibition, sees my work and does the job for me. Nothing's final yet, but it's exciting."