Discover / Meet the Artist
Interview with MJ Torrecampo
"I’m interested in those moments that are viewed as dull and trying to pull out what they can tell us about our relationships with others and space."
Today, we'd like to introduce you to
MJ Torrecampo @torrecampo
MJ is a painter and fine artist born in the Philippines, and currently based in Newmarket, NH.
We reached out to MJ following up from her recent selection among the Top 10 Picks
in the Voice of Artists Issue 14, to get to know her better. Here is what she shared...
What themes do you pursue, and why?
My work involves themes of the mundane, community, family and the individual’s relationship to the group. It explores and questions the close social relationships we maintain and their complications—the simultaneous aspects of unity and division. The images are memories I’ve initially filtered as customary, reconstructed with details that suggest an underlying tension and uncertainty—a sense of belonging and not belonging. The psychological space around the figures is probably more important than the figures themselves.
We’re at times on autopilot during the mundane aspects of our day—whether it’s while eating breakfast or in a subway. I’m interested in those moments that are viewed as dull and trying to pull out what they can tell us about our relationships with others and space. As I spend more years in the States than the Philippines, my birth country, I’m also thinking about how I relate to my family and the push and pull of being raised in one culture and growing into another.
Who are your biggest influences?
Was there a particular artist or work of art that struck you and contributed to what you do today?
It changes. Earlier in my university years, I looked at a lot of Degas, Cassatt, Toulouse-Lautrec—basically late 19th-century French painting. I was (and still am) very interested in color, interior scenes of everyday life, bar scenes. My background is largely figurative, so I was also looking at Freud, Saville, Uglow—a strong focus on the nude figure and mark making.
During grad school, it was Eisenman, Bruegel, Chris Ware. Eisenman’s beer garden and dinner scenes were definitely a major influence in the development of my work at this period when I was breaking away from photography as a source.
I took a sequential narrative class (which is essentially comics and graphic novels) in my second semester, and it changed my perspective on how painting can depict time, tell a narrative and describe a space. The individual panels of a comic can stand alone as an image, but it also has to work within the larger image of the page. It even reintroduced paintings that I’ve mostly ignored in the past and allowed me to see them from a new perspective, specifically pre-renaissance painting.
Side note: Chris Ware’s Building Stories is an absolute masterpiece. If ever I wish I had made something, it would be this incredible collection of works.
Do you critique your own work?
Not in the same way as a formal critique. I’m trying to work through the problems in the image, not worry about grandiose art problems, like “why painting?”
It’s more like a lightning round—firing questions to myself: Are the colors too saturated? Is it a good painting at 20 feet and at 2 feet? Does it look like something I’ve already seen before? Why am I asking someone to look at this image? Am I polishing a turd?
Nothing is written or said out loud. It’s mostly a mental activity before I start a painting session, so I know what my concerns need to be—whether I need to make big changes or continue in the path I left off yesterday. Sometimes it turns into a roast, which isn’t the most productive. I try to walk away from it and start something small or flip through some art books to recalibrate my priorities. It was especially hard this past year working from a home studio and not having the chance to fully turn off and have some distance. I would be in the middle of a conversation with my partner, but I can see my painting behind her and think of what changes I need to make.
What are 5 things you wish you knew as a beginner artist?
Don’t get caught up in using photographs—I wish I spent less time using photographic references before I had more complete knowledge of form, anatomy and structure.
Make lots of different things—don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s not surgery; you don’t have to pick a specialty. Also, it’s not life or death, so make lots of mistakes and learn from them.
Look at a lot of art, not just what you like—as important as it is to know what you gravitate towards, it’s equally important to know what you don’t like and figure out why. It’ll expand the visual encyclopedia in your head, and you might have a different opinion on it further into your art practice.
Learn to filter critique—Not every critique is beneficial to your work or how you want your work to develop. It’s hard not to take critique personally, especially in the moment. I find it helps to write it down to reflect on it when I feel less vulnerable.
Find community—Be in the studio and spend as much time as you can making work. Late nights at the studio was how I found my closest friends—the people who’ll hype you up when you have self-doubt about your work and the ones who’ll make you a better artist.
How do you see your art developing in the coming years?
I’m moving into a new studio soon (goodbye, home studio!), so I’m looking forward to having that space dedicated to making work. Most of my practice is primarily painting on canvas or panel, so I want to explore the same themes in a different medium. I made one sculpture during my time in graduate school of this person putting all their focus on trying to remove a fly that landed in their beer glass. I just remember how fun and challenging that was to make and the excitement of working in a new medium, so I want to introduce sculpture into my practice and explore the dialogue that physical objects could have with the 2-dimensional work.
Also, I’ve been sketching out ideas for this long, frieze-like, family narrative with aspects of surrealism, sequential narrative, symbolism made of multiple panels expanding throughout all the walls of a space. It’s not out of the sketchbook phase yet, so who knows what it’ll be or if it’ll be anything more than mumbo-jumbo of words, but I’m just thinking about how I can push narrative into something that isn’t linear or of a singular moment.
Curious to explore more of MJ's art? Visit her website and browse through more of her work: mjtorrecampo.com