Pierogi is pleased to present a one-person exhibition of recent work by Jim Torok. The exhibition title comes from the period between World War I and World War II, known historically as the Age of Uncertainty. It was a time of political and economic instability, of general uncertainty about what would happen next. It was a time of new ideas, politically, philosophically, and in the arts and sciences. It was also the period that gave rise to fascism, culminating in World War II.
This exhibition will include portraits, cartoons, storyboards, and painted signs. The cartoons and storyboards are a continuation of the text based, narrative and comic art that Torok has been making throughout his career, alongside his portraits. They deal with current concerns and obsessions about which Torok is particularly passionate, and “which I hope others understand, especially in our current political situation.” He considers them a form of history painting, only here from a unique personal perspective, rather than an official version of history. In these works Torok attempts to suggest a positive attitude, but often reverts to pessimism and fear, creating a yin and yang effect to the paintings. One new painting, “I Am Feeling Quite Anxious (Again)” follows up on an earlier work and begins, “I have not been sleeping well…” While another declares, “I Am Not Afraid.”
Torok continues his signature hyper-realistic, miniature portraits (ranging in size from 3 ¾ x 3 inches to 5 x 3 7/8 inches) that he has been making for over twenty years, as well as a new larger size, up to 10 x 8 inches. The portraits are of Torok’s friends and acquaintances from New York City, and upstate NY. For each portrait Torok takes dozens of photographs of the subject, looking directly and unsmilingly into the camera. He then paints from a different photograph each day, thereby creating simultaneously direct and nuanced, soulful likenesses.
Also included, are Torok’s sign paintings, or rather, paintings of signs. “As a child one of my biggest thrills was to watch my father paint signs for the plant where he worked. They were usually safety or warning signs, very mundane. I saw one of those security signs that you see everywhere, recently, and it just struck me as being quite perfect in its directness and efficiency somehow.” Torok decided the way to approach these was as trompe-l'oeil paintings – realistic paintings of signs, which then are actually signs, such as “For Sale,” “Video Surveillance In Use…,” and “ATM.”
While these bodies of work might seem superficially opposite — highly detailed, small-scale portraits contrasted with painterly cartoons and storyboards —what unifies them is an underlying directness and deadpan quality. The straightforward honesty and directness is what gives the portraits their power and the humor its punch. Their stylistic differences allow Torok to move fluidly from painstaking detail to free form spontaneity.
This will be Jim Torok's fifth one-person exhibition at Pierogi. Torok's work has been exhibited widely in shows such as “Portraiture Now: Communities,” a three-person exhibition (The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC); “The Lens and the Mirror: Self-Portraits from the Collection, 1957-2007” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC); “Attention to Detail” (The FLAG Art Foundation, NYC, Curated by Chuck Close), and; “A Family: Portraits” (Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO); among others. His work is included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), and others. He received an MFA from Brooklyn College and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.