Molokai Vet Takes Two Blue Ribbons for Inspired Artwork
John Torres is a masterful artist whose creativity knows few boundaries. While some visual artists struggle with a fickle art market or shallow bank accounts, John Torres has had a much more debilitating setback to deal with: the loss of the use of his right arm. Torres served in the Army during the Vietnam War, but it wasn’t until 1992 that he was partially paralyzed by a stoke. Torres recently received not one, but a pair of first place awards for artwork he produced using his left hand.
Presented at this years Veterans Art Contest held at the Trippler VA Clinic on O`ahu in May, Torres took first place for a large oil painting called “Red Hibiscus,” as well as for a linoleum print entitled “I Ka La Kahiko,” depicting ali`i and ancient Hawaiian explorers. “I was shocked,” said Torres who bested many other veterans from all over the state. The contest included water color, oil and acrylic paintings, as well as print, wood, sculptural and other mixed-media work. Torres was the only artist representing Molokai.
The stroke hit Torres at age 42, paralyzing the right side of his body. His voice box collapsed leaving him speechless for months and the doctors could not tell him if he would ever walk again. “It was a struggle. I came home in a wheel chair. My right arm was just dead. I’d have to lift it up with my other hand. But Everyday I would get out and work at it.”
Torres also suffered the loss of his lifestyle, having to say goodbye to martial arts and coaching soccer and track. He was also forced to retire from his job contracting construction jobs, “I loved my job and had always loved construction.” At one point, during the five years of constant physical therapy following the stroke, Torres picked up a set of pastels and sketched a dragon. The effort was successful enough to convince him to pursue his artistic impulse. With years of formal art education in his background, it wasn’t long before Torres found himself creating again.
“I struggled through it, but I painted again. I think that if people put their mind to it they could do anything. A lot of this I couldn’t have done without my wife, she’s my right hand person.” Today Torres’ work is varied and prolific. He has a slight limp and has only partial use of his right arm, but it’s enough for him to tackle larger projects like milling and furniture creation. He’s currently working on a large commissioned painting of a garden setting and often works in the late hours of the night.
“The funny thing is that it’s so quiet, you just sink into your art. You don’t think about the art when you’re doing it.”
If you’d like to John Torres’ works, including both winning pieces, visit the Molokai Fine Arts Gallery located next to the Molokai Dispatch in the Moore Center. Congratulations John!