Studio Visit with Tori Tinsley


Artist Tori Tinsley’s show Echolalia kicks off Twin Radius’ inaugural event February 4th at CenterForm. Executive Director Jacob Gunter and Advisory Board member Ruth Stanford visited Tinsley in her studio for a Q&A to gain insight into her work, her process, and some thoughts on the Atlanta art scene. Tinsley’s show opens February 4th, 6-9 PM at CenterForm.

All images by Ruth Stanford.

Interview Pic 1

Ruth Stanford: A viewer might experience your work very differently depending on whether they have heard you talk about the genesis of the work or not. What do you hope a new audience might take away from the work both before and after hearing you talk about it?

Tori Tinsley: Before hearing about the work, I hope a new audience will be drawn in by the interaction of the two figures and bring their own interpersonal relationships to it. I love hearing people share things like “this is just like me and my partner” or “this is just like how my two boys act”. I love that they tap into something that crosses over into those loving and caring relationships. When people find out about the personal nature of the work, I hope that they learn something new about caring for someone with a mental illness or debilitating disease like fronto-temporal degeneration. It’s a complicated relationship that is at often times extremely depressing, but it can also be very funny, many times terrifying, and can be even hopeful -- all at the same time. It takes a team to care for someone, but a lot of the time it can feel very isolating and overwhelming. I want people to know they are not alone and that their experiences are shared by others in similar situations.


I want people to know they are not alone and that their experiences are shared by others in similar situations.


Ruth: What do you see as the relationship between the bright colors you use and the subject matter of your work?

Tori: This goes back to the confusing and often emotionally-wrought experiences of losing my mom to dementia. The colors are acidic and raw and I feel as if they represent the exposed insides of a deep cut. They seem happy but chaotic to me. Although they are cheerful, I would not want to live in the spaces I paint.

Ruth: Tell us about the relationship between the small paintings and the larger ones and how you choose their placement relative to one another.

Tori: For Echolalia, the smaller paintings represent a larger picture, or the complete experience, whereas the larger portraits zoom in to the focus on the emotional expressions of the figures in the smaller paintings. The emotion of the experience is front and center in these larger works. By making the complete picture small and by placing these paintings above and below the larger portraits, I am highlighting that it is challenging to remember the experience in it's totality. It’s typically our emotions which dominate and color our memories of them.


Ruth: How has your work changed as your mother’s disease has progressed?

Tori: Great question. I have been playing around with many different ways of expressing this loss since she was diagnosed in 2009. At first I was painting from photographs of her and then sanding those down after they were completed. This was cathartic, but also too painful after a while. In grad school at GSU, I gave myself permission to tear into the canvas, build surrogate figures of my mom, take photos and videos of her, stitch into the canvas, and research topics related to ambiguous loss. I am not sure if this progression of art sincerely relates to how my relationship with her has changed these past 8 years, but I do think these different investigations touched on various aspects of what this relationship has been like. Only recently have I noticed a desire to paint with a more muted color palette. I see this as pre-emptive -- she is definitely at the later stages of this disease and I am not quite sure when she might pass. These are quieter times, and I think the palette is trying to tell me this.

Ruth: What do you think are the most important functions of art in the world today?

Tori: I think it depends on how you want your art to function in the world. I cannot claim to know the best answer to this, as I feel there is a legitimate and important role in making art to push the art world forward. Additionally, I believe art can serve to educate and connect with an audience that does not circulate within the world of high art. Through my paintings, I would like to connect these two worlds and feel that Twin Radius has provided a platform where this can happen.

Ruth: Have you found the feedback you get from viewers of your work to be helpful in dealing with your mother’s disease? Has anyone provided an insight that you hadn’t thought of before?

Tori: One of the more insightful comments I received was that the caregiver relationship I explore expands beyond caring for someone with dementia. They shared it can be expanded to all sorts of caring for others, including parenthood and partnerships. It opened up my work and helped me see that my experiences, although obviously challenging due to the nature of the disease, are in some way shared with anyone who loves another.

Ruth: Now that you have worked in the Atlanta art scene for a bit, what opportunities would you like to see that don’t exist and what do you think should be done to provide further support and appreciation for the arts in Atlanta?

Tori: I want to be careful with this one. I have been part of some really amazing groups like Doppler Projects doing exactly what I want to see happen here in Atlanta. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to offer the time it takes to make these ideas come to life. So I don’t want to say these things aren’t happening as I know they are and that sometimes if you want to see something happen, you have to help create it. Unfortunately, it is very challenging to get these things off the ground with minimal funding and financial support. It’s hard to bootstrap stellar shows (especially finding space to do this) that aren’t based on selling the work. And it would be awesome if our collector base wanted to invest in and purchase work that is “out there”. I know some people who are invested and extremely supportive and buy this kind of work (you know who you are and you know how much I appreciate your support!), but I’m not sure if there are enough collectors and supporters to provide a steady stream of powerful art shows. So, at the moment, if we want to see it, we’ve got to make it. I’ve been extremely lucky to have the opportunities I have had in Atlanta and I hope they continue to grow as more and more amazing people come together to make things happen. I wish I knew a cure all to fix it -- maybe another year or two in the scene will shed light on a solution.

Go HERE to view event details.

Interview Pic 4

Ruth Stanford is associate professor of sculpture at Georgia State University and a Twin Radius Advisory Board member.