Beyond the retro car paintings hanging on walls, pool tables adorned with logos and stacks of tires and hubcaps teetering precociously in various corners, there is a small room in a north Phoenix auto shop. But you won’t find wrenches or air compressors — rather, a number of paintbrushes, canvases and even a mannequin torso mounted to the wall.
“Yeah, it’s a mess,” Lucretia Torva said. “This month is a big art month (for me).”
Torva, born in Illinois and raised in Europe, has a masters in fine arts from the University of Illinois and now lives in Phoenix as a self-employed artist doing various work for both private clients and public organizations.
“Not only do I turn that in,” she said, pointing at a large canvas on the wall, “but I’m in an Artlink juried show, which is a pretty big juried show. I’m also going to be doing a big installation for Artell.”
The canvas is an acrylic, bright and busy scene of an evening at Midtown that she created for the Reinvent PHX Wayfinding project. The Artlink juried show and Artell are two other organized art shows where artists can display their work, collaborate and network in Phoenix.
“For my installation, I’m going to paint that,” she said, tapping the mannequin mounted to the wall, “then I’m going to have (a friend) clear coat it, so it’s really shiny and protected.”
Over the years, Torva learned about where and how she should share her talent.
“I think as I became self-employed, I realized I was providing a service,” she said, “So I got less and less fussy about (what is and) isn’t real art. If I do a mural in someone’s backyard, and they’re really happy and pleased with it and it brings joy to them, isn’t that art?”
Spending her life as an artist exploring so many different avenues, Torva has ventured out of her visions and seeks to produce the visions of others. Public art projects like the Wayfinding Project, which is coordinated by Reinvent PHX in conjunction with Artlink Phoenix, are her favorite kind of art.
“I really like projects like this because it appeals to my using my art as service where I bring somebody else’s vision to life as kind of a collaborative effort,” she said. “I really like that feeling of using what I do to make the world a better place.”
Her original interest in art came as a young girl, when she would accompany her mother to her French classes. Unassuming and diligent, she would open up her bag of plastic zoo animals and draw them until her mother’s class was over.
“Didn’t cause any trouble or anything,” Torva says, laughing.
However, zoo animals are a far cry from her usual paintings — cars. If a wall in her workspace isn’t covered by paints, books or canvas, it’s covered by her paintings of cars.
“I kind of made the decision to emphasize cars several years ago so I could niche myself into a market. That’s pretty typical business advice,” Torva says. “Its been helpful to have a niche to go after. I get known for it, like, ‘Oh! You’re the car lady!’”
While her studio is in a car shop, and has been for two and a half years, it wasn’t the environment that inspired her to make her focus subjects retro Ford Thunderbirds and sleek sports cars.
“I’ve always been interested in reflections and refractions, like mirrors and glass, and it’s kind of an excuse for a realist artist — I’m a realist artist — but it’s an excuse to do abstraction,” Torva says.
Indeed, her paintings emphasize the glossy textures of automotive finishes. One of the bigger paintings on display is that of a car on a dirt road surrounded by grass and flowers. The side of the car mirrors a warped bush of flowers. Another painting of a portion of a red car highlights sunlight bouncing off the contours — the art can be mistaken for a photograph. In contrast, her piece for the Wayfinding Project presents a more shallow depth.
Torva works with acrylic and oil paints almost exclusively, partly out of convenience.
“Egg tempera showed me I didn’t need to venture out too far from acrylic and oil.” she said, shuddering in disgust.
She also uses these media because she is inspired by those who use them.
“When it’s bigger, like the (Wayfinding piece) it’s easier to do it in acrylic. It dries fast, I can layer it pretty easily and work on an area and then come back to it. But oil… those just have a different, more glowing quality to them. The paint itself handles differently,” Torva said.
Gingerly weaving her way around the furniture and art supplies around the floor, she makes her way back to her canvas for the Wayfinding project. She leans against the wall with one hand, the other one holding a paintbrush, and applies extra details to the palm trees.
“I’m a small part of a big picture, but I’m still an important part because I can express things in my own individual way.”
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