Can you tell us a little bit about the moment you realized you were an artist?
This happened early on as a kid in grammar school. I was excited to be in art classes whenever possible, and I loved drawing. I was also lucky enough to get exposed to computer art very early on with video games and basic drawing programs. I always loved to draw and build things out of paper, and it eventually led me to architecture school. I eventually got really into fiction writing as well, so that was a sort of second phase where I realized I could do a few creative things in my life. You work in many different mediums, what comes most natural to you?
Working in front of a computer is the most natural to me, probably because of my early childhood experiences with a computer and my career in technology. I would say the digital creations I create with Photoshop and Illustrator, either as digital images and graphical illustrations, are what I wind up feeling most comfortable with. Drawing by hand still does come naturally, too, but it's funny because I wind up doing that with my iPad and Pencil more than on actual paper. How did you learn your necessary skills?
My college experience at Cooper Union was the biggest source of skills, because it was a combination architecture and art school. I got exposed to photography (in a darkroom!) and drawing, sculpting, woodworking, so I got to see a little of everything and figure out what I am good at. It was also important for my confidence and my ability to speak the language with classmates and teachers. I learned that there is a mindset to being an artist that is just as important as any technical skill. Very little of what I learned I got from any professional experience. After I was no longer in school, what I learned about the process and the tools was self taught over the years. A surprising amount I would say was learned only after I started Mobius Theory, and from peers.
Are there specific opportunities or challenges that focused your career? Getting to the point of leaving my technology career and doing something different, something creative, came only after I had some pretty miserable experiences in that role. I realized I had to make a change. I try to focus on that "do what makes you happy" mindset whenever I create for my brand. To me it's become about balance and joy versus just doing what you need to do to make a living. It took a very long time, but I eventually figured out that making a living means nothing if you are not fulfilled.
Who do you consider as your most influential mentor? Creatively, I would say my biggest mentors have been the close friends I made in my Cooper Union days. These friends went on to become practicing architects, but they have maintained strong ties to artistic mediums like painting, poetry, filmmaking. Even though we were peers then, the discussions we would have, and still have, are so precious to me because they gave me confidence and perspective. They also forced me to think about the multiple meanings something can have, which is an approach I have kept with me in anything I create. A lot of that is also thanks to my first year architecture professor Diane Lewis. When it comes to WHY I create something, she was the biggest influence by far in making sure everything has a reason. She taught me that nothing should be arbitrary or accidental. Even if no one else gets it. I can't say she was a "mentor" because she was only part of my life for one year, but her influence is a part of my spirit forever, and it inspires everything I do.
Artists are extremely resourceful and often create multiple streams of income. How do you generate income to support yourself and artistic practice?
I maintain work for clients, via graphic design and web design. And because of my technology career, I find I am able to benefit from a strong understanding of the technology to help people who might otherwise only see their websites superficially. I sometimes teach classes on various aspects of technology, which draws from my past career as well. I also work for my wife, The Curious Coconut!
How do you measure success in your work? Money! LOL. Well, not really the amount of it, but the idea that someone can part with something that is precious and give it to me for something I created. That means the world to me. I do not take that transaction for granted. We always say money doesn't matter, and it doesn't mean the world, of course. But it is such a focus in all our lives, especially when times are tough. When someone parts with even a small amount to have something I created, it's a very special experience. When that happens on a large scale, it's extraordinary. What artist inspires you the most? A lot of the early surrealists inspire me. Also, David Lynch. Trent Reznor, Andy Warhol. Warhol has always been interesting to me because of his personality and lifestyle as well. He didn't live in a bubble, rather he connected with so many people, and was a part of this vast artist network. That appeals to me tremendously. Do you have a creative hour, or a time/ place/ or activity that inspires your creativity? I get ideas when I am driving or walking around by myself, but I wish I could say there was a particular time or ritual. By and large, I need to be alone for this to happen. It never happens at night, not anymore. Initial ideas happen anywhere while I am out, but then I like to think there's a second stage of creativity that sparks the follow-through, and that happens in the studio. It requires me not being disturbed because then the ideas get scattered, so I find that this can only happen between 9am and 3pm. After that, once the cats start meowing for supper lol, it's gone. Unless I am on the tail end of finishing an idea, then that can be done more on "autopilot" at any time.
Do you have a ritual or do you set specific assignments for yourself?
I try to, but those rituals change constantly. Music has always been a constant in my creative process, or even my work process. For a specific personal idea or project, there's always a theme song that inspires it. So I might loop it or play it from time to time, usually very loud.
I have to figure out or decide that a particular day will be personally creative , or more technically oriented (including admin or financial type work). Those are two different brains to me so I can't ever try to do both types of work on the same day. Do you keep a journal of ideas? For really personal or random things, I keep a sketchbook. But for things that might translate into a product or design or idea for Mobius Theory (or someone else), I keep all that digitally. I keep ideas in Trello or Airtable. In the past, I found that I ended up with notebooks full of things that never materialized because they were cluttered and confusing. That may sound terrible, because I know physical journals are so important to many artists, but if I get an idea for something, it isn't important for me to sketch out how it looks. I wind up just naming it and filing it away as a future idea. It has been interesting seeing a shift in how I keep sketch ideas because I understand the costs attributed to carrying them out, especially for Mobius Theory. The ideas usually have to work a little harder in my brain in order to move into the next phase.
As a kid what did you see yourself doing as a career? In high school I thought I'd be an architect. As a little kid I didn't really process this concept. I guess I thought about the cliche things like firefighter or astronaut. But growing up where I did, I wasn't exposed to the full range of what was possible until high school and college.
What told you ‘this is the life for me’? (and when) That only happened last week! Just kidding. Actually, I felt emboldened about my path after being paid to do a really big website and branding project, or when I had my first big day of sales with my booth, and I can say those things happened in 2017. But really, what has happened in 2020 could have squashed all that in an instant. The support that has come in, both from organizations and people, really broadcast to me a feeling of "You can't stop now, we need you." What compromises have you had to make in order to succeed (ie: location of studio, driving a lot, not doing something you really want to do, working seasonally etc) Has it been worth all of your effort?
Ideally, Mobius Theory would be so time consuming and lucrative and popular that I wouldn't need to do as many in-person shows or client projects. When I talked about having to separate creative days vs admin days, and how fragile the creative sparks are at the early stages, it would be nice to have time to nurture them properly and take advantage of when that feeling comes. But as it stands now, a lot of the day to day compromise involves balancing that kind of free creative work with everything else that goes on with making money and having obligations and simply surviving. Sometimes some ideas don't survive, but it's okay. It's all totally worth it. There will always be compromise and limitations, but that's usually where the best art comes from
Andy Torres is a resident artist at the Broad Avenue concept shop. He is a designer, website developer, DJ, photographer, and active participant and leader in the arts scene here in Memphis. Learn more about Andy and his wife, Amanda, on their website Mobius Theory!
Also, tune in to our Instagram on Tuesday (7/28) to see Andy DJ some music for us!