Recently, while visiting the Los Gatos Museum of Art, I came across the work of Latino Torelli, an Italian painter now residing in Oakland, Ca.. The museum in association with the Los Gatos Art Association produces the Annual Open Juried Show, an organization comprised of bay area artists, Torelli’s painting, “Alley by the Portal, Oakland”, caught my eye, tucked neatly as you please, in a downstairs corner of the museum’s gallery; not a large painting , 24” by 24” , but one reminiscent of De Kooning’s work with its loose abstract qualities, buttery soft pinks and beigey palette . In following up my intense interest of this relatively unknown painter’s work, I contacted Torelli to arrange a meeting. He was very accommodating and personable with a slight no nonsense edge. Not suffering fools easily, Torelli grilled me to see what I was about and then we got down to business. Born in 1939 in Tuscany, Italy, Latino Torelli started painting in his teens. Influenced by his country’s rich heritage, Giotto, the 15th century painters and his aunt’s urging, at age 13 he tried his hand. Suggestable and not too involved with painting in his youth he went on to study geology and hydrology earning a PH.D from the University of Illinois in 1973. After working for a water resources company in Italy, Torelli did some sheep farming in Umbria, 20 years to be exact. Torelli resumed painting in 2002 after the death of his first wife, his daughter’s urging and a relocation to the US.
Latino Torelli received an award for “The Columbia River At the Bridge of I-97” in 2007 from LGAA and when interviewed by newsletter editor, Kevin Kasik, Torelli answered with “how do I respond to the juror’s (Marian Parmenter) calling me a serious painter? – I guess that’s the best part of it. I just think of myself as a guy who paints, not a painter. After this prize maybe they can call me a painter.” Torelli, no different than any painter worth their weight in paint, states: “The only thing is it must be coherent, always coherent.” Torelli, an interesting combination of philosopher and scientist spouts Spinoza’s theory of intuitive knowledge: to see things sub specie aeternitatis. Torelli also likens painting to transubstantiation: “In painting, space, light and time are the holy trinity. In a given painting we can only address a particular configuration of this truth. But if we do it right we hint to its essence, Eternity.”
Torelli tells me he paints quickly as he says he can only paint for 2 hours at a time; the tension is too much for him. “When I’m done with that one, I never put my brush on it again. Never on a dry surface; only in the moment, wet into wet.” “I try to be as free of intentions as I can in order to make a good painting. When your intent is to make a good painting you never do.” Torelli uses a light effortless coat of paint, not much struggle. At first glance the paintings appear to be thick, dense but on a closer look they have an almost transparent quality, veils. Torelli exhibits some of Matisse’s qualities of an unbroken line of ease especially in his rare figurative piece such as, “Soon’s Garden” from 2004. A charming painting of a friend with his signature creams, beiges and peachy pinks as in her jacket with black hair and pants for contrast. The whitish yellow surface where Soon sits in her little garden chair bring to mind Van Gogh’s lively brushstrokes. Torelli paints on masonite, all 24 “ by 24” for the no nonsense reason that that is the size of the masonite sheets when divided into 8 squares. Torelli states that in Italy the sheets are a little larger so his paintings are 28 “ by 28” there, but of course! He states that the square gives him the right ratio between height and depth. “I mostly paint from the tip of my feet”, he quips and “rectangular paintings are rare, only for self portraits”. Torelli works out of his apartment in Oakland , Ca in a cramped space but then for an artist space is a state of mind. I witnessed his new body of work, which is an extreme departure from the landscapes. But Torelli informs me it is all of the same thing to him and done simultaneously in his search for unity, unity coming in different colors and styles. The new work being of a flat coverage of one color each with a small tilted square strategically placed. For Torelli this tiny square afloat on a bed of color represents mankind’s struggle with dualism and perhaps his own, linking his disparate styles and ideas or subject/object together and presenting them as one. Torelli has an ongoing wrestling match or should I say fascination with dualism. Sounds pretty Human, All Too Human, to me. Torelli suffers the pangs of guilt over yearning to show the body of his work in a retrospective and then he says he will ‘hang it up’; I hope he quashes those demons.
Torelli tells me he paints only on the spot and “Red 23rd” from 2003 “spoke to him of mortality”. A dilapidated piece of land between Potrero Hill and the S.F. bay; a whitish gray street atop an undercoat of pink, an oft used starting point for so many of Torelli’s paintings; stark whitish grey posts standing firmly atop the pink . The painting has a filled up luscious quality in spite of its bleak subject matter.
Notable for me ,“Pine Trees at Albinia”, also from 2003; a forest of windblown trees with delicate bluish grey sky and one large pine tree in the foreground sitting atop a bank of creamy tan with dark brown overlaid every which way giving an energy to the scene; askew posts alongside keeping the picture upright. Torelli adds a clear green to his beige palette in this one. “ Painting is just being there. When you’re somewhere painting, what you see makes you live and you make live what you see. “ Latino Torelli