Avenue Magazine Featured Artist July/08

I was recently interviewed for a feature in the July issue of Avenue Magazine.   

Avenue Magazine is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada... My home town!

Here is a link to the write up in the current issue: http://www.avenuecalgary.com/articles/page/item/dead-rising












Dead Rising

A Calgarian pieces together new life from dead wood

By Adam Trinh
Photography By Meredith Torrens

Matt Torrens takes the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” to a higher level. It’s not so much a person’s trash, but rather Mother Nature’s. Strolling along beaches, Torrens searches for Manzanita driftwood to create remarkable animal sculptures that form a life of their own.

From life-sized bears to a three-foot deer head, Torrens finds the most miniscule details in the wood and brings them together to create a unique sculpture.

As far back as he can remember, Torrens, who was born and raised in Calgary, had a passion for art. However, he decided to take an economics and small business program at Mount Royal College.

He never finished the two-year program though, opting to work as a model for the Wilhelmina modelling agency in New York City.

It was in the Big Apple that Torrens met his future wife, Jyl .

Living in Calgary, he felt there was always an abundance of arts and culture to fuel his creativity and muse.

“I attended the usual Calgary events every year; the Stampede, the rodeo,” says Torrens. “It was always a mixture of Western and contemporary art.

“More local cities [like Calgary] are displaying more public art, and it motivates me to see other artists’ work.” Perhaps some of that artistic talent and connection to the natural world was in Torrens’ genes. His father’s uncle, Bill Mason, was an award-winning naturalist and artist from Winnipeg who passed away when Torrens was young.

“My mom would always have these books of his around filled with watercolour paintings,” he says. “It was inspiring because it was an example of how an artist can actually make it.”

As a child, he carved figurines out of driftwood he would find along the Bow and Elbow rivers. But it wasn’t until 2006 that he rediscovered the material on a beach west of Redding, California, where he and Jyl had moved to be closer to her family.

“I went hiking up at Whiskeytown and I discovered the really unique shapes and veins of Manzanita driftwood,” Torrens says. “I first thought of blending some driftwood with my metal sculptures and I started the first project with that intention, but the sculpture just kept flowing and ended up being all driftwood.”

 Matt Torrens collecting Manzanita driftwood on the
beach near Redding, California.

Named after the place he found the material, “Whiskeytown” became a life-size horse and set the theme for his craft and future projects.

Manzanita plants are small evergreen shrubs that are common throughout western North America.  Its branches are typically rich in dark orange or red colour until it dies and grays out.

“When the wood grows, it twists and turns. But when it breaks off and falls into the water, it smoothes out, refining the shape,” says Torrens.

Not to say that his artistic palette is limited to only driftwood. In 2003, Torrens entered a sculpture contest at the California State Fair with a different kind of substance. He created a life-size bull, not of wood, but of metal utensils. He calls the piece “Bulldozer.”

“It’s made of dinner knives and silver serving platters,” Torrens says. “[It] represents the number one animal raised to be eaten and formed out of the utensils we use to eat it.”

Torrens racked up the hardware at the fair, receiving the coveted Golden Bear award, First Place, Best of Show, Best in Division and the Creativity Award.

But driftwood remains his material of choice, as he values the uniqueness of each sculpture. He doesn’t start off with a plan, but instead each piece of wood Torrens finds walking along the beach draws its own inspiration and ideas.

“I could’ve worked with steel and metals, but it’s not natural, it feels forced,” Torrens says. “Each piece is like a gigantic puzzle. A really interesting piece can be part of something bigger.”

Strategically placing each part while using its individual characteristics and traits is what makes the models so intricate.

This past April, Torrens was invited to the 9th Annual Grand National Art Show and Sale in San Francisco where he won first place in the Overall Collection. Torrens brought five sculptures to the show, including his two latest works “California King,” a life-sized upright bear and “Wild Uprising,” a wave with three horses running out of the break.

It is at art shows like these that Torrens is able to get his work exposed so that he can then work on commissioned pieces for collectors. Depending on the size, each piece can sell for $2,000 to $20,000.

To ensure each model is sturdy, Torrens builds a steel frame out of old horse corrals to support the weight. After drilling screws into the wood and welding bolts to the frame, Torrens coats the entire piece with a poly clear coat to protect it against the elements.

A typical sculpture is completed within a month or two, depending on whether Torrens can find the right parts while staying on track.

“[While working on one sculpture] I find another interesting piece [of wood] and start working on another one,” he admits.

There was never a point that Torrens felt he didn’t have a strong backing or encouragement from his family. His support system allows him to freely create without pressure.

“Both my family and my wife are 110 per cent behind my artwork,” he said. “In fact, when I was working in other fields, they would constantly tell me that I should focus on my art.”  

For more information on Torrens’ work, visit matttorrens.com.

Posted on June 02, 2008 by Matt Torrens