Thomas Torak [NRA 1991]


First name:  Thomas ;
Middle name:
Last name:
  Torak ;

Member: Non-resident artist member ;
1991 ;
  n/a ;


Luminosity, atmosphere, poetry, craftsmanship, joy, life. These are the cast of characters in my paintings. Most artists use light, color and design to express what they want to say about the objects in their paintings, I do just the opposite in my work. I use subject matter, apples, flowers, trees, mountains, portraits and nudes to explore the possibilities of light and space and poetry. Some artists paint in prose, some paint in poetry. There are artists who feel the more details they paint, the more accurately they describe something, the more successful their painting will be. Others, like myself, prefer to express things in the most elegant way possible. Often it is not what is said but how it is said that makes a painting successful. Some artists paint facts, some paint metaphor. Many artists say what they need to say very directly so the viewer cannot misinterpret their work. I like to have an air of mystery about my paintings. There are often layers of meaning or multiple possible interpretations. Some artists paint light and shade, some paint luminosity. Light and shadow are necessary to reveal form and define what we are looking at. Luminosity not only describes the light striking the object but explores the quality of the light. The objects in the painting become not only lit but illuminated. Light creates the life force in the painting and should not be treated carelessly. Some artists paint space, some paint atmosphere. In order to paint an object well an artist must paint not only what they see but also what they can’t see, like the space between and around objects. Many artists don’t paint space at all, the good ones use it to give their paintings depth, the best artists give that space character, make it atmospheric, use it to enhance the mood in the painting. Some artists design, some compose. There are artists who design their painting to fill the picture plane in a pleasant manner from left to right, top to bottom. Those who compose are concerned not only with the picture plane but also the space behind it, moving in and out of the painting using rhythm and dynamics. Some artists paint tones, some paint color. For some time now there has been a school of painting that tries to faithfully match the tone on their palette to the object in front of them. Tonalism describes the object adequately but doesn’t convey much about its character. Color can give those objects breadth and personality and bring them to life. Some artists paint what they see, some paint what they perceive. Most artists paint exactly what they see with their eyes. I prefer to paint using all of my senses. If the viewer feels like they can taste or smell or touch the object in the painting their experience will be richer. Some paintings speak, some sing. I think of my paintings as musical compositions. I don’t often tell stories with my work. The content is less narrative, more poetic, less illustrative, more evocative. Some artists paint to live, some artists live to paint. I know artists who are very talented but have no idea what to paint. They will produce whatever the market demands. I have things I want to do, to say, to express with my work. One critic noted my boundless enthusiasm for both my subject matter and for the visceral act of applying brushwork. Sometimes I think if I cut my finger I would bleed linseed oil.

When people ask me to define my painting style I tell them I am a liberal classicist. Current trends and pop culture are interesting and occasionally inform my artistic vision but I am wedded to the idea of embracing the long held principles of classical painting. I find the tendency to recreate Old Master paintings repellent however, and have no desire to paint lutes or Roemer glasses. Nor do I want to return to the 19th century and paint nymphs and fairies or women in white dresses strolling through dewy meadows. It is the quality and techniques, beauty and power, of classical painting that I find so compelling. I strive, however, to make paintings that are thoroughly modern. Brahms and Rachmaninoff held to classical principles in their music but it never sounded like Bach or Haydn. Likewise I would be shocked if an expert mistook one of my paintings as a long lost work by Rubens. Critics and curators writing about my work have summed it up quite nicely. Judy Burke, art critic for the New Haven Register, begins her review of my solo exhibition “Thomas Torak clearly loves to paint. Inspired by the commonplace, those familiar everyday objects that surround him, Torak paints with a vigor that speaks of enthusiasm for both his subject matter and for the visceral act of applying brushwork. Straightforward and direct,” she continues, “with minimal brushstrokes, these works achieve a fresh and assertive fluidity, the tightly balanced passages of color and physical buildup of brushwork achieving a lively painterliness.” Robert Kurtz, exhibition curator for the 61st Midyear Exhibition of The Butler Institute, noting my The Morning Newspaper in the exhibition catalog wrote “Characteristic of his quality work, he juxtaposes a frenzied, liquid brushstroke within what is actually a very tightly defined staging…Through the use of his expert, frenetic painting technique, he has transformed a contemplative moment into one of quiet liveliness.” Quiet liveliness, lively painterliness poetry, craftsmanship, joy, life.

Thomas Torak is a modern master painter working in the classical tradition. His paintings are known for their breadth and luminosity, rich color and lively brushwork.

Shortly after high school, a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art had a transformative effect on Thomas’s life. There he encountered the Prometheus by the 17th century Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens and vowed to spend the rest of his life drawing and painting. He moved to New York city and began studying at the Art Students League, first drawing and anatomy with Robert Beverly Hale then oil painting with Frank Mason. To support his studies he worked for a painting restorer in the morning where he learned to appreciate the physical structure of a painting, and, at Carnegie Hall, then later at the Metropolitan Opera, in the evening where he nourished his love of classical music. After a few years Thomas left the restoration job and began working in Mason’s studio. He prepared paint and canvases for Mason’s use, framed and crated paintings for exhibition, and learned what it was like to live the life of an artist. While at the League he met and fell in love with Elizabeth, and after leaving the League they worked side by side for the next 15 years in their New York city studio developing their artistic visions and exhibiting. Looking for space to create larger paintings they relocated to Vermont where they now work in adjoining studios.

Thomas is dedicated to the classical tradition, an artistic philosophy which includes the artist preparing his canvases, mediums, and hand ground paints. An expert still life, figure, and landscape painter, Thomas refers to his paintings as visual poetry. His love of classical music is evident in his work. He likes to say he listens to what he is painting. You can often see this in the titles of his work such as Adagio for Peonies or Variations on a Theme by Cezanne. He once had an entire exhibition of Nocturnes inspired by, and dedicated to, Chopin.

In 2008 Thomas was invited to join the roster of instructors at the Art Students League of New York as an instructor of portraiture and figure painting. He now teaches in the same studio where he learned to paint, where his teacher, Frank Mason, taught for 57 years, and his grandteacher, Frank Vincent Dumond, taught for 59 years. “It’s important to me,” Thomas says, “to pass on to the next generation of artists what was so generously given to me.”

In addition to his gallery representation and solo exhibition Thomas has competed in numerous juried exhibitions where his paintings have won over 100 awards including Gold Medals from the American Artists Professional League, Audubon Artists, and the Academic Artists Association, and a silver medal from Allied Artists of America. In 2017 the American Artists Professional League elected him to signature membership, only the 12th artist to receive this honor in the organization’s 89 year history. Thomas’s work has been seen at the Butler Institute of American Art, the Springfield Museum of Fine Art, the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, the San Diego Art Institute, the National Academy Museum, the Krasl Art Center, the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, the Wiregrass Museum of Art, and the Chautauqua Art Galleries.



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December 28, 2019

Last updated: August 1, 2022 at 11:56 am