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 John Torres  (1939 - 2001)

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Lived/Active: Rhode Island/Virginia      Known for: sculptor-massive abstract, painter

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from the Times Dispatch, Richmond, VA; June 4, 2001

John Torres is dead at 62
Prayer gathering slated Tuesday for sculptor-educator

A prayer gathering will be held Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Shockoe Bottom Arts Center to remember the life of Harvard-educated sculptor and educator John Torres.

Mr. Torres died Wednesday in a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., hospital after suffering complications from a diabetic seizure on his way home from a trip to a Rutland, Vt. quarry. He was 62 and had lived in Richmond since 1977.

He was a painter, a teacher, a photographer and a writer, but he was best known for his massive stone-carved sculptures that earned him international renown.

A teacher to thousands, Mr. Torres shared his gifts with children and teen-agers at schools throughout Virginia. He was especially drawn to disadvantaged inner-city youth, with whom he felt a kinship because of his boyhood days in New York City.

"When you're a child and you're black, you need to be real clear that there are professionals in your area [of interest] that are black and have survived," Mr. Torres told The Times-Dispatch during a 1986 interview.

Mr. Torres encouraged all his students, including those who studied with him at the Torres School of Sculpture at the Shockoe Bottom Arts Center, to abandon their comfort zones and risk disapproval from society to make their messages known.

"You've got to give yourself permission to fail because, in this game, the prize - if there is one - goes to the person who makes 500 mistakes first. Pile up the mistakes; that's how you learn the game," Mr. Torres said during a 1992 interview. "It's never too late to engage the creative part of yourself."

Mr. Torres was one of 11 children born to a family whose roots included black, white, Cuban and American Indian ancestors. He grew up in what he called a "very female-oriented household" with seven sisters and a mother and grandmother who took charge while his father traveled with the railroad.

He said the female influences of his childhood often showed up in the female torsos he favored for his sculptures. As a teen-ager in the early 1960s, Mr. Torres gave up an engineering scholarship to Michigan State University after one year of study to pursue his passion for art.

He sold his first sculpture in 1963 as an art student at the Art Students League of New York and graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 1972. In 1999, he received a master's of education with a concentration in the arts from Harvard University, where he was a Stephen J. Ross Fellow.

Christaphora Robeers, Mr. Torres' long-time partner in business and life, said that in his sculptures he allowed the form of the stone to direct the design and voice of the piece. She said he favored sea forms and images in the shapes of rock crystals and pregnant women.

"Everything he did, he had an intense encounter," Robeers said.

In a 1986 article, Mr. Torres explained why he often chose massive dimensions for his artwork.

"The reason why the scale is so grand is that I believe that before anybody else takes me seriously, I've got to take myself seriously. I've got to produce quality things that make it real difficult to ignore me."

Survivors include a brother, Waverly Torres of New York City; five sisters, Agnes Perry of Greenfield, N.H.; Beverly Kupperman of Salem, Ore.; Elaine Jones of Wilmington, N.C.; Patricia Torres of Boston, and Diane Torres of New York City; three daughters, Shasa Torres of Baltimore; Padma Torres of Las Cruces, N.M., and Ciara Torres of New York City; and a son, John Torres of Las Cruces, N.M.

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