Lora Reynolds is pleased to announce an exhibition of new paintings and drawings by Jim Torok—the
artist’s seventh show at the gallery.
Jim Torok’s miniature portraits are incredibly lifelike. Oil paintings on panel, most are five inches high by
four inches wide and an inch-and-a-half thick (although some are even smaller). For more than 20 years,
he has been painting friends, artists, family, and himself in this mostly unwavering format—face forward,
head and shoulders, neutral expression. Despite their diminutive size and his subjects’ lack of overt
expression, Torok’s portraits are powerful (if subtle) exclamations of personhood.
Before starting a rigorous day’s work on his portraits, Torok makes a handful of loose drawings on copy
paper—drawing in a style he began to develop as a child. He tries to let himself draw whatever is on his
mind, no matter how ridiculous, to warm up his hand and mind. The drawings can be block-letter slogans
(tender or aspirational, sarcastic or obscene), monologues by bald stick figures with oversized noses
(self-deprecating self-portraits), or any sort of inventive and absurd doodle. In colored pencil or felttipped
marker, Torok’s expressive cartoons form a surprising counterpoint to his hyperrealistic portraits.
Yes, these two bodies of work are by the same artist.
The cartoons reveal some of Torok’s most intimate feelings and beliefs. He worries about not being smart
enough, young enough, or good-looking enough. He marvels at the power of the internet but is
ambivalent about his attachment to his smartphone. The new political order concerns him. Kindness and
dream-chasing are virtues he reaches for. And tomorrow will be better. Surely.
This exhibition includes dozens of cartoons but only two portraits, both of which depict accomplished,
extraordinary women—Mónica de la Torre and Alexa Wesner—whose work and values sometimes mirror
De la Torre is a poet, scholar, and contributing editor to BOMB Magazine (which mostly features
conversations between artists). The final lines of The Happy End/All Welcome, her recent collection of
poems, are “…this was made but it / wasn’t written. // The next one up is in made-up tongues.” When
asked about this closing passage, de La Torre has said, “I struggle with endings. Pointing to what’s next
was my way of (not) closing the book.” Her discomfort with finitude—and faith in the constancy of
change—align with Torok’s optimistic gaze toward the future. One of his new cartoon drawings reads
“Exciting New Day Ahead! (Get Ready).”
Alexa Wesner, on the other hand, was the American Ambassador to Austria until January 20 of this year.
She was a tech executive and entrepreneur before moving into public service, founding five Texas-based
organizations that promote progressive stances on issues including voter rights, affordable healthcare,
income inequality, and LGBT rights. Wesner has served on the boards of nonprofits that empower young
girls, create first-generation college graduates, and champion contemporary art. As Ambassador, she
often spoke publicly about the the unlimited potential of creativity to move us toward a more just
society—one in which we treat each other with grace, work together in hard times, and respect one
Who Torok chooses to paint and what his subjects symbolize are just as important as how he makes
such virtuosic paintings or that his cartoons are so different from the portraits. Visual artists represent
the majority of the people he has painted over the years, perhaps because he identifies with dreamers,
idealists, and passionate, determined, thoughtful people. Artists are not the only ones who possess these
qualities, of course; everyone stands to benefit from an enthusiastic belief in oneself, others, and the
future, even amid the occasional flash of insecurity.
Jim Torok, born in 1954 in Indiana, lives and works in Brooklyn and upstate New York. Torok has had solo
exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery (Washington D.C.), Denver Art Museum, Ulrich Museum of Art
(Kansas), Taubman Museum of Art (Virginia), and OMI International Arts Center (New York). He has
participated in shows at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, FLAG Art Foundation (New York), Contemporary
Arts Center (Cincinnati), and Blanton Museum of Art (Austin). His work is in the collections of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and Museum of Modern Art (New York).