John Torina captures magnificent vistas in "Sueños de Costa Rica" at Jay Etkin Gallery

By Fredric Koeppel

Posted: Oct. 27, 2015startclickprintexcludeendclickprintexclude

John Torina moved to Costa Rica about a year and a half ago, giving the well-known landscape painter new vistas for his skills. Those familiar with his art should not regret his shift of subject from West Tennessee and the Mississippi Delta to the fields, mountains, valleys and sea coasts of his new home. Eight examples of his recent work are on view in the exhibition "Sueños de Costa Rica" through Nov. 18 at Jay Etkin Gallery.

Bordered by Nicaragua on the north and Panama to the southeast, Costa Rica offers extensive coastlines on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. One of the few countries in the world not to employ a standing army, Costa Rica possesses an enviable reputation for peace and prosperity. Because of its variable tropical climate, its beautiful landscape and its access to open water on two sides, the country's chief business now is tourism, which brings in more money than the three major crops — bananas, pineapples and coffee beans — combined. Sounds like paradise.

Torina captures some of the idyllic as well as the magnificent aspects of the Costa Rican landscapes in these paintings, some of which touch on the oceans, others of which look far across mountain vantages to distant valleys. The brushwork here is loose, rapid and sketchy, affording a sense of spontaneous involvement in the ever-changing qualities of light and weather. Torina's habit is always to paint in the outdoors, not beginning a piece outside and completing it in the studio and not working from photographs. The result approximates how fluid, vibrant and transitory are the effects of nature and atmosphere and incorporates that mutability into the body of the painting itself.

Each of these paintings, which vary considerably in size, delivers its own mesmerizing beauties, even as we observe Torina's usual method. That is, he tends to place the landscape part of the subject, the actual earth, in the lower third of the plane, with the rest of the picture being the sky that reaches up to the top. This is not an unusual technique among landscape and seascape artists, for whom the sky and its dynamic cloud-and-light-filled architecture is often more important than the "land" of the landscape. You could say that Torina specializes in the luminous and transcendent metamorphic powers of the sky.

These qualities emerge to striking effect in such pieces as "Sunset in Guanacaste," with its tiers of mutating oranges, pinks and yellows; in the multiform grays of "Spirits over Bruja Mountains"; and especially in the soaring translucent blues of the large "Bruja Valley."

Perhaps the move to Costa Rica — surely an occasion for personal reinvention, as we say in America — provided Torina with the impetus required to invigorate his work. Whatever the case, "Sueños de Costa Rica" offers a slice of tropical and mountain landscape — decidedly absent from the local environment — translated into radiant tranquility.

Read more: The Commercial Appeal Memphis

John Torina, "Sunset in Guanacaste," oil on canvas


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