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Luke Tornatzky is not only a phenomenal artist,
he's a dirty ping pong player.

Vibrant colors shape Tornatzky's art

By Sandy Hershelman


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 of bold colors used in his boat paintings.

Tornatzky chuckled, and explained how he knew art was his calling in kindergarten.
"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 each day. He wasn't "taught" art. He was given assignments, then critiqued.
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 contacted him.
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 of photos.
"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 Race Week.
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.


More of Luke's work can be seen on his website.

Date Last Modified:9/25/19
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