Torin Porter begins the conversation with 'DayDreams'
BRATTLEBORO — During last year's Phish music festival in Watkins Glen, N.Y., Vermont artist Torin Porter dressed up as Dr. Eustachian to showcase his larger than life ear sculptures. He installed seven huge green ears, measuring 2 to 6 feet each. Each ear had stems which a person could talk down into and then all of the other ears could hear what was being said. Porter has been part of six Phish music festivals so far and said he enjoyed seeing people having a conversation using "the art" at last year's Phish festival. Currently his exhibit, "DayDreams" continues this conversation and includes 27 individual pieces at Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts.
Porter recalled that when he was in high school his brother bought him a welder and that is when he started using the tool to make art. He started working in steel in 1992 during his senior fellowship at Dartmouth and uses an Oxy-Acetylene torch for torch welding. He begins with a sketch and lets the composition emerge over time, with the metal. It's a process of building up and grinding down and building up again and hammering, too. He forges and welds each sculpture individually; he does not do any metal casting. He noted, "Steel is useful and practical and it's a tool and you can use it. It has the playfulness of toys."
Another remarkable thing that happened during Porter's childhood which influenced his work was when Bread and Puppet Theater moved to Glover and from ages of 4 to 14 he was a member of their summer theater troupe where he worked on the children's shows. It was there he learned that "art includes the landscape, the audience, the sculpture, painting, music, theater, and the narrative. It all works together."
He explained that the sculpture is constantly changing as one moves around and holds it. He likes the outdoor installations when the piece gets to a viewer's senses before they get in their own way with any preconceived idea about it. He added, "Steel is strong enough that it can be handled. What an object feels like, you want to reach out with your hands to pull it closer."
One notices hands in the "DayDreams" exhibit are very prominently featured. Some are distorted and much larger than the body, some are reaching out, and some are intertwined. When asked about the emphasis on hands, Porter said, "To grasp something is a mental and physical thing; it's about that kind of body-knowing. Your whole body has the brain in it. You are making with your hands and you're giving and receiving with the hands. People want to touch everything!"
Porter likes to combine a couple of elements together which he sees as a sort of a conversation within the piece, which invites people in so that they can join in with their own thoughts. He thinks of it as a conversation between the head and the body. He likes to embrace the unknown a bit. The human form and its various movements are intriguing to Porter. He said, "I am drawn to forms that explore humanness as it exists in the imagination. Whether human figures are absent or present, I see an emphasis on humanity as the unifying aspect of my work — humanity as it relates to its inventions, to nature, and to self."
From the ages of 15 to 22, Porter was a stilt dancer with the Momix Dance Company whose founder Moses Pendleton, from Lyndonville, was a student of Torin's fathers. When asked why he named the show "DayDreams" he said it's about people taking breaks during the day to let their minds wander — a way of getting a new perspective on things and imagining other possibilities and sharing those with other people. He explained, "The survival skill of projecting life onto lifeless objects carries nicely into sculpture, seeing something come to life. The value of what it is when someone looks at it and it comes to life."
Born and raised in Glover, he graduated from Lake Region Union High School and holds a B.A. in studio art from Dartmouth College. He's married to Vanessa and they have a daughter, Maeva who is six years old, and a one-year-old son, Victor.
Jim Giddings, co-owner of the gallery commented, "Torin Porter's steel sculptures initially connect through whimsy and theater, but quickly we recognize the artist is offering us a storyline we all share at some level; it's a narrative about nature, or discovery, or dreams."
"DayDreams" continues at Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts through Aug. 12. The gallery is located at 183 Main St., Brattleboro and is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 802-251-8290, or visit mitchellgiddingsfinearts.com.
Victoria Chertok writes arts and entertainment reviews for the Reformer and volunteers with Latchis Arts and Next Stage Arts Project.
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