Sunday, September 9, 2007

A peek into the split personality of Jim Torok at Pierogi 2000

Some days I find myself looking in the mirror and thinking, "Hot damn. God, I'm gorgeous. Just look at those lips. Lucious, full, plump; just the right tonality of pinks mixed with fleshy earthiness. Why, with those big green eyes and raven hair, I could pass for Ms. Jolie's sister, right? Right?????"


The very next day, the same mirror looms overhead, and I think, "My God. Look at you. Why do you even try? Your days are numbered. You're past it. There's no hope. Why go on? No one will ever see the things in you that you wish them to see."

It's that very duality of thinking-- the yin and yang, manic depression, or polar opposites that puts the drive into Jim Torok's "Recent Work" exhibit, which just opened in Williamsburg at Pierogi 2000.

I was immediately floored by Torok's honesty and extreme openness about the mental anguish that he deals with on a daily basis.

Success-- just what does it mean to us, as individuals, or as artists?

To each, it can take on a different meaning.

Does it mean hobnobbing with the Mary Boones or Jeffrey Deitches of the world, a vodka tonic with Tom Sachs, a Roberta Smith review, or does it mean having our friends beside us as we celebrate our work, and hopefully sell enough to maintain representation, and get just enough press coverage to maintain or pique interest.

In this case, with Torok, he has the devil on one shoulder, and angel on the next, and they're locked in a caged deathmatch like Ann Coulter and Maureen O'Dowd with no exit till blood has been spilled.

In Pierogi's front space lies the "negative" thinking mode of Torok.

All the self-doubt and frustration you could ever imagine is there for our examination in hilarious cartoon, or comic strip format.

Very pop, very now, very "cutesy," very in fact wrong.

Many days we all feel the same way about ourselves.

"What's the use?
Why go on?
Do we really matter?"

We see our efforts falling by the wayside in terms of making a real difference in the world.

There seems to be a daily barrage of "bad news," or factoids, snippets of how useless our little humanoid specs of matter are to the big picture.

With so many faces and bodies gathered at the front, I thought-- "Well, this is it. This is all there's to it."
Little did I know what lurked around the corner.

As such, I've seen this type of work before-- and many artists right now are bringing up the issue of "Just what is our value" in the greater scheme of things.

I'm thinking of William Powhida's great take on creating his "ArtStar" alter ego at his Schroeder Romero show last Spring.

But with all the focus on Pierogi's front room, it's actually the back room where Torok's true talent lies, exposing brilliantly executed small drawings and paintings of his subjects, including a stunning self-portrait (not shown here).

In many ways I felt a great kinsmanship with Torok's delectable sarcasm, wit, and failure to connect on a greater level that he highlighted with his "cartoon pieces."

But the fact of the matter is Torok is a genuinely gifted and talented artist.

The cartoon imagery does not reflect the steadiness of hand and eye and skill that true "art" has always represented throughout history.

Torok's hyper-realistic sketches and paintings (quite small pieces), are filled with such great detail, sense of color and luminescense, that I could barely believe that this indeed was the same artist.

And here is where the duality of this show can be negatively construed.

Does Torok's exposing of his inner doubt take away from his ability as an artist, or is it merely a self-expression needing to take root and blossom?
I'm unsure.

I find that the very layout of the exhibit at hand is what bothered me, because in this case, the doubt has triumphed the talent.

Self-confidence is a huge factor in the success of an artist, or any individual.

It truly does not matter how much nacent ability you possess, what school you went to, or how many names you can drop if you do not believe in your own abilities.

This is something that Torok must work on in the future if he is to continue to prevail.

This is not to say I certainly didn't enjoy these pieces of self-immolation to a huge degree, but there's a large portion of this exhibit that left me with unease.

In a sense, I'm absorbing the artist's exposed nakedness here, as are all the viewers.

What qualities in ourselves can we change so that we do not relegate our greatest works to the "back room" of our lives, or the galleries we contract to?

Some quite serious issues to consider when we put ourselves out there for judgment, or in this and other artists' cases, literally "for sale."

Torok has taken a big risk here, and I salute him for it.

BUT I do hope that he eventually conquers these doubts that are so in the forefront of his mind, and continues to do the work he is so skilled at-- bringing to life these images of acquantances and subjects.

I truly felt at any moment that these tiny people would leap off their paper or boards and start speaking to me.

With such an amazing ability to capture the human essence of his subjects' personalities as well as physical trailts, one can only hope that he continues on this path instead of navel gazing despair and self-deprecation.

The exhibit runs until October 8th.

For more information, go to

1 comment:

the convex mirror said...

Your assessment of the Torok show is exactly right. I really liked the show, but mainly on account of the portaits. It is interesting too that Torok would choose to work in such contrasting modes. Does this imply a value judgment? If the artist is implicitly valuing one style over the other, then one style is necessarily being devalued - a strange position for the artist executing work in that style to hold! Anyways, thanks a lot.