Exploring Seattle art galleries is great fun. Art
can reach the very depths of the soul. It can inspire, excite, captivate.
. .or nauseate.
Getting to Seattle, however, can be a real pain. So, why not try
Port Townsend? The Victorian seaport seems to have more art galleries
per capita than most towns of its size.
The town is also a haven for dozens (at least!) of amazingly talented
artists, who are making their mark in the world of art — artists
like Luke Tornatzky.
"The most fun thing about painting is getting to play with
the colors," Tornatzky admitted, with a gleam in his eye.
It is indeed color which defines the striking maritime images gracing
not only Tornatzky's easel and walls, but the sweatshirts and
posters, which commemorated the 2000 Wooden Boat Festival.
Vivid reds, bold blues and glorious yellows rest in an idyllic wooden
boat scene which could easily reflect life at Point Hudson.
His passion for sailing and wooden boats not only made him a perfect
candidate for Port Townsend residency, it has also given the pastel
artist a myriad of compositions to "paint".
About 80 wooden boat pastel drawings have been created from photos
taken at the Center for Wooden Boats (CWB) at Lake Union. The drawings
are now going for $3,200 to $4,500.
How long do they take? "Every one of them took
48 years," the artist said, offering his age, as well.
The popularity of this series of drawings doesn't allude Tornatzky.
He assumes, like himself, the drawings' buyers are transported
back into their childhood memories.
"When I was a kid, I remember going to this lake on vacation
and they had rowboats like these. Those rowboats provided the first
time in my life where I could go out without any parental supervision,"
Tornatzky said. "The lake was great. The weather was great.
It's one of the first real freedoms you get as a kid."
Tornatzky's just back from a trip to Greece, where he and his
camera explored the docks.
"The reason I went to Greece is that they paint their boats
really colorful, which is typical of places where it's warm
and sunny," Tornatzky said. "The light there is amazingly
bright, twice as bright as it is here."
A dozen rolls of film later, the artist is ready to start on a new
series of Greek boats and maybe architectural drawings creating
at least enough pieces for his show, in April of 2002, at Seattle's
Kimzey Miller Gallery.
In last summer's show, entitled "Figures and Others",
Tornatzky stretched beyond the maritime themes he's known for
and explored local landscapes, architecture, and life drawings.
Except for the latter, he created drawings with the same sense
bold colors used in his boat paintings.
Tornatzky chuckled, and explained how he knew art was his calling
"It started out by my making longer clay snakes than the other
kids," he smiled. "My mom was an artist. What was uniquely
available was she did figure drawing. She took me to life drawings
when I was 7."
As a third grader, Tornatzky was using Playboy magazines
to draw from, as did his mother.
Her artistic flair shaped her son's life. Their basement was
painted as an Egyptian tomb, complete with figures and hieroglyphs.
Pen and ink and charcoal were the young boy's faithful companions.
In high school, a two-period long art class, at the end of the
school day, allowed Tornatzky the freedom for five hours of art
He wasn't "taught" art. He was given assignments,
Although the Cleveland, Ohio-born artist went to the Cooper School
of Art and Cincinnati's School of Design Art and Architecture,
he never finished.
"I couldn't stand school. I couldn't wait to get
started with my life," Tornatzky recalled.
A job in a commercial art studio, doing illustrations for poster
art design and other business needs, proved one thing to Tornatzky.
Dress slacks, a tie and stress were not for him.
Moving to Oroville, Wash.,"a town with awful signs", Tornatzky
painted signs in the 1980s. In 1994, a "real" gallery
A series of lively paintings of signal flags dancing towards the
top of a large schooner were well received.
In 1996, he quit his Seattle job as a finish carpenter to paint
full time. In 1998, he moved to Port Townsend.
Once accepted by a nautical art gallery, Tornatzky began looking
around the waterfront for images. Boats are nice, but composition
is the key.
"I'm more of a realist than I would like to be, but it
never feels done until it looks real," Tornatzky said.
Many of his favorite pictures, however, are impressionistic.
He gently paged through an Andrew Wyeth book, "To me, this
is when art's the best. From the distance it looks like a photo,
but up close you see it's so quickly and minimally done."
Obvious throughout the conversation with Tornatzky was his passion
for his art. His green eyes sparkled, "What I like most about
a painting is the lighting how it sets the tone, how it
makes you feel when you look at it.
"Saturated colors are a wonderful thing," he acknowledged
the creations on his own walls. "Hopefully, the painting has
the colors that you'll see at the best part of the day."
A Tornatzky creation begins first with a photo or a conglomeration
"The photo records the moment of light. The light in the painting
is more important than what it's shining on," he felt.
"You never get really comfortable and satisfied being an artist.
There needs to be the next level'," Tornatzky said.
"But, it's hard to experiment because if it's not
up to the level they expect of you, it could diminish all the work
that's gone before.
"All of the past, up until a moment ago, is your legacy,"
he repeated the Robert Henri quote he has written in plain sight
on his easel.
As popular as are Tornatzky's colorful pastel paintings, his
life drawings of the nude body are what fuel his creativity. From
one to four times a week, he creates drawings in anywhere from one
to 20 minutes.
"I've drawn thousands of life drawings, so why do I need
a model? It's the visual," he explained. "I could
imagine it, but it wouldn't be the same. The life drawings
are my only chance to draw. The rowboats are painting.
"Life drawing is exciting, partly because there's a time
element, partly because there's life there. Sometimes it's
vibrant. Sometimes it's sensual," Tornatzky said. "If
you distilled it down, the life drawings are more me. They are
my art. The pastels are something I sell.
"The life drawings are as loose as I'd like my pastels
to be. I just haven't been able to make it work," he admitted
to being an artist in the making. "I'm about a quarter of a
way up (the totem pole). Most people never get started. A lot only
get half way up. The names you recognize made it to the top."
Despite his modesty, Tornatzky's making quite a name for himself.
Besides having shown his work in a number of exhibitions, he most
recently won awards in the 1997, 98 and 99 Edmonds Art
Festival. He juried the show in 2000.
His work has graced the Windermere Cup poster for 2001; the 1996,
97 and 99 posters created for Pike Place Market; the
1995, 97 and 98 CWB festival; and the 1996 Whidbey Island
Tornatzky's work was also on the cover of a few 48°
North in July 1993, 94 and 95; and on the cover
of a 1994 Sea Kayaker magazine.
He is represented by the Kimzey Miller Gallery, Winn Devon Art Group,
Corporate Art West and Port Townsend's Earthenworks Gallery.