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James Perry in conversation with artist Amber Torres

Anthony W. Neal
Anthony W. Neal is a graduate of Brown University and University of Texas School of Law and has written for the Bay State Banner since 2012.
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“VolcaÌo” by Amber Torres PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

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Sponsored by City of Boston | Mayor Michelle Wu

 

This is the 16th interview in a weekly series presenting highlights of conversations between leading Black visual artists in New England. In this week’s installment, artist James Perry talks to artist Amber Torres. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Amber Torres is a mixed-media artist, podcaster and public advocate for the arts. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Hamilton College and was a fellow in the Levitt Public Affairs Center’s Social Innovation Fellowship. As Boston’s public art project manager, she manages the city’s public art commissions. Torres has held positions in outreach and program management at the Boston Arts Academy, the Boys and Girls Club (Franklin Hill) and the Eliot School of Fine and Applied Arts. As host of the local online platforms The Museum Tv, HoodGrown Aesthetic and the Cabo Verde Network, she learned to combine institutional knowledge with a grassroots approach to create new pathways for artists to access and benefit from Boston’s creative economy.

“There’s a Word for that in my Country” by Amber Torres PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

James Perry: Amber, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Amber Torres: My name is Amber Torres, but I go by Amber Dominga creatively. I’m a Cape Verdean woman and a proud Puerto Rican as well, so I have that blend of cultures, growing up in Roxbury. I went to the Boston Arts Academy. I was a visual artist there.

Like many young creatives of color, I’m a multi-hyphenate. I have many passions, starting with the media, when I came back from college, hosting The Museum Tv. And then I started a podcast with my best friend called HoodGrown Aesthetic. I feel that those parts of my identity are so important. I can’t tell my story without talking about those platforms.

Who are some of the artists who inspired you?

”Grace” by Amber Torres PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Interacting with the art community is what has inspired me the most in reengaging in my craft. The first thing that comes to mind is Art Plug, which was happening when I graduated from college and came back to Boston. Jamilah [Unique] and Jet Flee were the founders. There were performances and a bunch of art on the wall. It was just so raw and so beautiful. I really want to shout out to Art Plug for being an inspiration. I met many artists there. One that comes to mind is Curtis Williams, [aka] “Curtistic.” 

You work for the city of Boston. How does your experience as an artist help you deal with the various art projects in and around Boston?

The one takeaway I have as someone who was just getting [her] feet wet with public art is just how vast this field is and how so many very experienced people have been in it for a while. There are folks who have done 20 projects outdoors, all around the globe. It’s been an established field, but so many people like us aren’t necessarily represented in [it]. Sometimes it’s about optics and perspective. A lot of the public art that I grew up around was murals because it was more accessible and maybe more affordable. I am getting familiar with construction and how to create large-scale projects, and so it’s exciting to me as an artist to learn about new art forms. I think that because I have that passion, it’s a big help.

A lot of my research was actually inspired by this office and the research it was doing with Boston Creates. So, it’s serendipitous and honestly a little trippy that I work in this office, because I was studying the work so much. The benefit of being in the arts in the community is that, after work, I can go to an art event and have difficult but honest conversations with my peers about what we can be doing better, and give perspective. Sometimes, it’s about who can you uplift. Can you do better marketing, better communications, better relationship building? It’s been absolutely wild but super-inspiring. It feels like a dream job where all my passion and skills come together.

“Alive” by Amber Torres PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

When it comes to completing your work, when do you know to step away?

I guess just making sure that everything is rendered to the level that I feel comfortable with. The frontal figure is fully rendered. I want to keep the gestural aspects of the drawing and make sure there aren’t awkward gaps. As long as everything is clean, every part of the canvas has color on it and the figure is rendered as I need it to be, then that is completed to me. It’s interesting that you ask that, because I think that my style can be unfinished in parts. That’s why I keep saying the figure is rendered as it needs to be, because my backgrounds are really minimal and sometimes can look unfinished. But I make sure to balance out the page. That’s why I love my mixed-media approach.

Why do we need art?

There is art in every aspect of culture, whether it’s clothing, how you make your pottery to put your food in, how you do your hair. There is art in every aspect of human survival. We need it because it’s inherent. There’s a power — there’s a wealth to art, and our liberation is in there. I truly feel that.

What’s next? What are you working on?

I want to create a pathway for more art administrators to understand what this career is like. How do I take my influence and my connections or what I’ve learned in art and create a business or create a platform for the next generation? Last but not least, I’ll plug that my prints are for sale at Frugal Bookstore in Roxbury. That’s what I’m doing now.

 

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