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

2 thoughts on “And… Who’s Tornillo?

  1. Enjoyed reading this, I remember you from the Morgan Block…I have one of your paintings, it’s of a young man wearing a folded newspaper hat, one of my favorites, it reminded me of my son at the time. I really like your work. I am enamored with sugar skulls and place that imagery on platters that I throw and sell at Good Earth. I was told by someone that I was disrespecting the culture since I wasn’t Mexican or Catholic, but the imagery speaks to me, Day of the Dead speaks to me, but I never thought of having a fictional alter ego. Interesting concept. Do well.

    1. Hi:
      Of course, I remember that painting! I took a look at some of your work on the Facebook sight and recognized that as well. There are some beautiful pieces and I am especially drawn to the decorative skulls.
      To clarify, Tornillo was never an alter ego. It was a way into the subject matter. I never saw “him” as being a part of me or an expression of myself, but rather another person who I could dialogue with and refer to while trying to explain certain concepts to others.
      I no longer present my work as Tornillo’s but the name stuck around. Tornillo Fine Art has a certain quality I like. Thanks for your comment.

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