It’s Rustic


Part One
(This is the first of a series of five posts describing my aesthetic or artistic sensibility in more detail.)

My aesthetic is Rustic

Beginning with the exhibit Guerra y Sueño, my paintings have explored the balance between archival quality and  rough-hewn character. From the use of re-purposed materials, to patched and sewn painting supports and the direct application of paint from the tube, my work is plainly and purposefully construction grade. The original conceit posited these paintings as the product of a poor painter from Mexico. I have tried to maintain that look and feel.

The cultivated coarseness of the work positions it within a place of poverty, necessity and rough simplicity. This is opposed to the often over precious attitude found in much fine art. My sensibility is burlap and house paint rather than linen and Sennelier.

The use of rustic material and application in my paintings coupled with the fine art setting in which they are found  provides an interplay of high and low which is integral to the Tornillo aesthetic. Of course each piece I create has different requirements related to theme, composition and presentation, but below you will find a few examples of my use of rustic features in certain paintings.

This photo shows the palette board stretchers and stitched found-material support of the painting Mi Familia II

This photo shows the palette board stretchers and stitched found-material support of the painting Mi Familia II

This detail of the painting El Aqua y La Vida shows the use of burlap used in context as a “patch” on the garment and also as a bit of texture applied randomly on the painted texture clothing and the pot.

Stitched canvas as a compositional element in the painting Giants In The Land

Stitched canvas as a compositional element in the painting Giants In The Land

Aesthetics and The Secret of Life

Aesthetics, Tornillo

“What Kind Of Art Do You Do?”

When people learn that I am a visual artist this is the question that invariably comes next. “What kind of art do you do?” Even though I have been asked this question countless times I am always surprised to find how ill prepared I am to answer. My paintings are unique, colorful, textural, linear, and deal with themes of human dignity. They are, however, paintings. Pictures.

Remember the equation?
1 picture = 1000 words
I paint lots of pictures. So the equation becomes:
(Lots of)  pictures = (lots of 1000’s of) words
Most people’s eyes glaze over when I set about solving that equation for them.
You have to see my paintings to know what kind of work I do.
I can however, describe a certain aesthetic to which I subscribe. An aesthetic is a set of underlying principles that guide the work of an artist or a group of artists. Aesthetics is a philosophy that is concerned with beauty and taste and art and how they are defined and appreciated in culture and across cultures. Our word aesthetics comes from Greek words that have to do with sense and perception. Theorists and aestheticians like to talk about things like sublimity and sublimation, intentionality and linguistic phenomenality. I like what Oscar Wilde said about aesthetics being, “the search after the meaning of life.” I like the idea that true artists are searching in their work after the meaning of life. There are many people making beautiful and well-crafted, even ‘artistic’, creations. This is craft. Art is different. Art is striving, and art is the visual record and embodiment of the Search for the Meaning of Life!
So an artist’s aesthetic describes the search and how it is worked out in the details of the art. It is more than a personal style. It includes an artist’s way of working, his or her goals and statements of intent, the use of materials, the thematic choices and presentation. All of this is in the context of a complete body of work.
The Tornillo aesthetic that I have developed over the years is the result of my studies, my travels and the making of hundreds of paintings. It is characterized by five basic principles. In this and a few subsequent posts I will try to describe and explain these five principles.
And I will try to use fewer than ‘lots of thousands of’ words.



And… Who’s Tornillo?

Leonid Tornillo

I am often asked about the significance of the name I have chosen for my art studio and business. Tornillo is an obviously Latin sounding name and, well, Pattison is not. This is sometimes a disconnect for new followers of my work.

As with all good stories, this is a long one. I’d like to give a shorter version to help explain.

The name and the concepts behind it are instrumental in understanding my current painting and the aesthetic behind it.

Leonid Tonto de Maria Garcia Tornillo is a 63 year old, completely fictional artist who was born in 2009. That was the year I mounted a successful show for the Mexican artist who, according to the (fictional) exhibit documentation, was unable to come to the United States for immigration reasons. The exhibit, Leonid Tornillo: Guerra y Sueno, included more that two dozen paintings and accompanying details. It was an effort on my part to examine some important concepts in my art history and visual culture studies, specifically related to artistic identity, exhibit and viewer trust, and the glorification of the exotic. The exhibit also explored the issues surrounding the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from a non-American perspective.

Though the paintings, the biographical and critical information filling the gallery led the viewer to believe that the work was from an older Mexican painter, they were actually the work of a white middle class father of three from a small town in Washington. Me.

Some of the many questions raised in the exhibit:

  • How did viewers see the work differently when the conceit was revealed?
  • How did the viewers trust in the gallery and its authority change when the documentation was unmasked as false and misleading?
  • What role does our fascination with identity play in our attraction to art created by the Other?
  • And does it matter if a work of art is created by an artist from Zimbabwe, or a gay man in New York City, or a Zen monk, or a woman who lives in a tree and only comes down twice a years for painting supplies and Clif Bars?

The response to the exhibit was overwhelmingly positive! I was able to present some difficult concepts and open the discussion in a fun and thought provoking way and… the paintings sold. (From the start it was important that the paintings be great. Apart from the concept and learning opportunity, the art needed to stand on its own, working as paintings and appealing to collectors.)

In developing the show, my painting changed and got better as I allowed the “outside perspective” of Tornillo to influence the pieces. Slowly a specific aesthetic emerged. And, trying to keep this story short as I promised, I continue to paint according to that same aesthetic today. I continue to use Señor Tornillo’s name too. Minus the ruse that my paintings are his.

In an upcoming post I will further explain the Tornillo aesthetic that informs the work I do.


December 12

Our Lady the Virgin of Guadalupe


Tornillo 2