The Coast is Her Muse: An Interview with Artist Gina Torkos

Gina Torkos is a contemporary artist working in an unusual medium. She creates original collages made entirely of discarded magazines. The results raise awareness about how our disposable culture trashes our environment.

While Torkos does not limit herself to coastal scenes, she lives part of the year in St. Augustine Florida, so much of her work features the marine life and beaches of that magical place where the ocean meets the shore.

Gina has recently been the recipient of several awards for her collages. Two were finalists in the Artists Magazine Annual Art Competition (published March 2018); another won first place in the mixed media category in Artists Magazine’s 2017 All Media Competition; and another won 3rd place in a juried competition at the Cultural Center of Ponte Vedra Beach. In the past, she has received a first place and a best of show award from the St. Augustine Art Association. Her work was also featured in the December 2016 issue of SouthWest Art Magazine as a finalist in their Annual Artistic Excellence competition.

Gina Torkos’ is represented by Aviles Gallery in St. Augustine, FL. You can see more of her art at ginatorkosart.com.

Embed1 GinaTMinding the Nest a 30” x 30” collage. © Gina Torkos.

How do you decide what to represent in your art?
Living on the intercostal waterway in St. Augustine is a constant inspiration. The variety of birds, ducks and mammals that I can observe from my dock is amazing. The St Augustine Alligator Farm, just a few minutes away has a wonderful Rookery, where roosting birds and their young are plentiful. This is how my bird series started. I also love to travel, so I have an endless supply of ideas and photographs from places around the world to choose from. My love for our environment, especially the water, plays a big part in what I choose to portray. The ability to create images of a beautiful, natural landscape including healthy, happy creatures, gives me great joy.

What inspired you to use this medium?
Prior to creating collages, I primarily painted in oils. I always looked to improve my techniques by taking painting classes. I also kept a journal; a small sketchbook filled with ideas, pictures, and sketches, and at one point about 4 years ago I started experimenting in this journal with scraps of paper, cut out of magazines, to mimic brushstrokes. At that point, I started to see the possibility of doing something unique, of expressing my point of view in a different way. It started as little exercises, then small works. It was challenging, exciting, and I never knew what I was going to end up with. I continued to refine my technique to what it is today.

Where do your images come from?
I always reference my own photos, and as my family scuba dives with cameras, I have their underwater photos, too. I am never without a camera, either my Canon EOS 7D, with zoom lens (borrowed from my husband), or my iPhone. I am lucky to be close to so much natural and historic beauty where I live. I also get a great deal of inspiration from visiting museums and art galleries, always learning from the great artists who have left their works for the world to see.

What is the design process? How do you form the magazines into art?
Once I have decided upon an image or idea, I sketch it out on paper until I get the right perspective and dimensions. I also work on the colors and values I want to use at this point. Then I sketch the image on a stretched canvas. Once I am happy with the final design, I go over the image with black sharpie marker, and erase all the graphite (which can turn to grey mud from my gel medium).

At this point, it’s time to collage! I decide if a particular magazine will work better, and I grab a stack of magazines to start looking through them. I am looking for images, words and phrases that relate to my ideas, as well as being the right color and value (lightness or darkness of a color). I rip and cut, and place pieces on the canvas, then I glue them down with an archival gel medium. I keep building up the images, piece by piece, sometimes going over great pieces because it’s not an exact science, but an evolving work of art. I never know what I am going to find in the magazines that I use, it’s a mystery, a puzzle, and a lot of fun when just the right piece lands in just the right spot!

After my work is completed, I give the entire collage another coat of varnish, which is non-yellowing and archival. Then it’s off to a photographer who documents my work in a high-resolution image for future giclées! Giclées (pronounced Zhee-clay) are images reproduced on canvas or paper with three basic criteria; a high-resolution image, archival quality paper, and pigment-based inks. Usually, after the original sells, I will have these locally produced on canvas and paper.

Embed2 GinaTLooking Up, 18” x 24” collage. © Gina Torkos.

The collages are colorful, striking, and detailed, especially up close, but you can still tell they are made from magazines. Can you talk a bit about that?
There are extraordinary people creating and editing magazines, and in particular, editing images and text. I appreciate that creative energy and like to think I am just changing the medium for people to continue to see and appreciate their work.

My challenge is to use these gorgeous pieces which come in an amazing variety of colors and patterns, in a way that doesn’t infringe on their copyrights. It’s a balance I work hard to achieve. I also love the idea of taking something that people throw away and using it to create not just art, but art that makes people stop and think, smile and feel good.

When I got up close to your art, I had an “aha” moment. Is that common?
You aren’t the only one who gets that “aha” moment, and as an artist, that’s the best compliment I could receive! I love to witness the range of expressions that a viewer displays. At first, they glance at my work, and think “painting”, and from afar, my art does look like a painting. Then, I see them squint and look a little puzzled, then when they walk closer, they smile as they see improbable pieces making up those images. It’s confirmation to me that I have created something unique and that is very satisfying. Most people ask if I also paint on my canvases, but the canvases are only covered with scraps of magazines.

How do you acquire the magazines to create these works?
Fortunately, friends and clients now have a new “recycle” option. I gladly take those old magazines from them! As I work with different magazines I am learning about the finish, weight and grade of paper that are used. There are definitely better papers for collage, so sometimes those gifted magazines go into my own recycle bin, and sometimes they are so beautiful that I spend too much time looking at them! I am always on the lookout for niche magazines.

Will you keep creating collages?
Well, this is a fun reversal of my process. Initially I was frustrated by my inability to get to that next level with oil painting… I knew how I wanted to paint, but just couldn’t figure out how to get there. So, I used magazines. Now that I am officially a “Collage Artist”, I am taking Oil painting workshops to learn more about composition, light, and values to improve my collages! Honestly, I am having way too much fun creating collages, and challenging myself with this unusual medium. I don’t think I will ever give up collage, but I hope to continue to evolve and take this medium to wider audiences.

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