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Jimmi Toro: A mature artist in a maturing gallery

Published March 21, 2014 11:25 am

'Faces' • Utah artist talks about his work and why there are few child prodigies in painting.
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Step into Jimmi Toro's studio, in his family's house in Holladay, and you're overwhelmed by art.

A stack of Toro's paintings leans against one wall, while more are propped up on the furniture. More paintings hang on the walls — including a series of his earliest work, which acts as a reminder of how far his style has progressed.

And whatever he's painting at the moment lies on the floor, because if he used an easel, the liquid oil-based paint he favors would run before it dries.

"I was completely surrounded by his work," said Cat Palmer, the photographer and artist who directs and curates the Urban Art Gallery in Salt Lake City's The Gateway, of visiting Toro's studio. "I was speechless, and [if] you know me, it's hard for me to be speechless."

That feeling is what led Palmer to invite Toro to display his work in Urban Art Gallery's first solo show, which opens Friday, May 21, during the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll.

"I wanted to create that experience for somebody else," Palmer said.

Like many painters, Toro finds it difficult to describe his style, but he calls his work "my attempt to add something new to the pool, not just create what already exists."

It's an attempt that's years in the making, ever since he was a kid growing up in central California.

"I was one of those kids where it's always been there," said Toro, 41. "Instead of doing homework or listening to class, I was always drawing on my folders."

But Toro said it has taken him years to become a mature artist. Unlike the music business — and Toro, who composes music and has played in bands, has some experience here — the art world doesn't usually produce child prodigies, he said.

"To develop a style, something that eventually becomes unique to you, it takes decades," he said.

He compared it to the "10,000 hour rule," cited by the author Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book "Outliers," which argues that success in a field usually requires 10,000 hours of practice.

"It's that 10,000-hour thing, but it's more like 20,000 or 30,000 hours," Toro said.

There are essentially two types of artists, he said.

"One type of artist will spend their whole life perfecting, say, landscapes. For much of the latter part of their lives, their landscapes will look the same, they'll just do more," he said. "The other type of artist, like a Picasso, who will change every year or few years — I'm more of that type, the Picasso type."

Toro's solo show at the Urban Arts Gallery will show some of his process and experimentation.

It will include early work, back when he showed his paintings to a gallery owner in Scottsdale, Ariz., who told him, "You're really good, kid, but you're not there yet."

And it will include examples of Toro's latest work, including works from two intriguing series of paintings in his "Faces" project.

One is a collaboration with six photographers (including Palmer), each of whom sent him a portrait — which Toro then transferred to canvas and interpreted in his own way. (The paintings will be displayed alongside the photographers' original pictures.)

The other series consists of four paintings, each of them visual interpretations of songs Toro has composed and recorded as part of a planned album.

One of the song paintings, "City," was being completed in Toro's studio just last week. It's a striking image of a woman's face (the model is a friend of his from Kenya who has "an international look"), overlaid with a pattern of yellow circles.

"The face is an attempt to illustrate the lyrics of the song," Toro said. "City," he added, is about how "each city has its own flavor — like how Manhattan is different than Chicago — just like each person. So the words are about getting to know a person, in relation to getting to know a city."

Toro has spent the past five years getting to know Salt Lake City, having moved here with his wife, Teri, and their three children.

After first making connections with a Park City gallery, he was eventually wooed by Derek Dyer, executive director of the Utah Arts Alliance, which oversees the Urban Arts Gallery. Now Toro is on Utah Arts Alliance's board and is redesigning the group's logo. (Like many artists, he worked in graphic design to pay the bills while his art career was still taking off.)

He sees promise in the Urban Arts Gallery, which is why he agreed to put on a solo show and to have the gallery represent his work.

"I'm trying to help them elevate the level of their gallery, to more of a legitimate gallery that serious art buyers would be interested in," he said.

Toro "is kind of our golden artist," said Palmer, the gallery's curator and director.

His exhibit, she said, is a turning point for the Urban Arts Gallery, which opened 16 months ago in a large space once occupied by an American Eagle Outfitters clothing store.

"We are just graduating from being a teenager, I feel," Palmer said. "This is the perfect exhibit to say, 'Look at us, we are moving into the adult world.' "


Twitter: @moviecricket —

'Jimmi Toro: Faces'

A solo exhibition of some 80 paintings by Utah-based artist Jimmi Toro.

Where • Urban Arts Gallery, 137 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City (in The Gateway shopping center).

When • March 21 to April 7. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.; closed Mondays.

Opening • An opening reception is set for Friday, March 21, 6 to 9 p.m., coinciding with the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. —

Also at the Gallery Stroll

Here are some other highlights for this month's Salt Lake Gallery Stroll, set for Friday, March 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. at galleries in and around downtown Salt Lake City:

'The Emergent Event #2' • Students of the University of Utah's Warnock Special Topics Class have set up a storefront at Artspace Commons (824 S. 400 West) as an "emergent collective" to display an installation "featuring the collaborative sewing kits that will tool the upcoming environmental projects called 'Interstitchiaries.' " This is overseen by a visiting artist in residence, J. Morgan Puett, and is connected to Puett's "Mildred's Lane" project in New York. The storefront is open from 5 to 8 p.m., and sounds like one of those things you have to see for yourself to understand.

'Instantly Framed' • Alpine Art (430 E. South Temple) is celebrating its expansion and the launch of its new framing app, Instantly Framed. To mark the occasion, the gallery will exhibit works created by established and emerging artists on their phones. The exhibit runs through May 1.

'Mark by Mark' • The Alice Gallery in the Glendinning Mansion (617 E. South Temple) will showcase works by three artists — Al Denyer, Lydia Gravis and K Stevenson — that showcase one of the artists' most elemental tools: the mark. The exhibit runs through May 9.

'Utah Ties' • CUAC (175 E. 200 South) will present awards to winners of its annual juried exhibition, which highlights works by artists with Utah connections (whether they live here, used to live here or have spent time as students or professional artists here). More than 550 works were submitted, and works by 52 artists were chosen by gallerist Adam Gildar of Denver's Gildar Gallery. The exhibit runs through April 12.

For more details about participating galleries, go to gallerystroll.org.