Texas Parks and Wildlife

The Art of Nature

The Art of Nature

Season 1 Episode 9

toro4.jpg

Under the Texas Sky: S1:E9: The Art of Nature

Major support for this podcast comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife

Foundation: Conserving Our Wild Things and Wild Places for Over 25 Years.

[MUS—BORN FOR THIS MOMENT]

Mother Nature…now there’s a storyteller.

[SFX—RAIN /WIND /BRANCH CREAK / BIRDS]

The lush, rich scent of damp earth when it rains… the perfume of spring

flowers …and the calming music of bird songs carried on the whisper of a

breeze those are the stories of renewal and hope.

[SFX—DESERT/WIND/ RUBBLE]

The impossible uplifts and folds of massive rock cliffs… and the ancient

impressions of extinct animals captured in undulated layers of sediment offer

powerful accounts of change over millennia.

[SFX—FLOWING WATER]

And, then there’s the modern-day cautionary tale of water from rain-swollen

creeks and rivers rushing to the coast, eroding banks along the way because

they no longer have native grasses rooted in them… and in its hurry, it leaves

behind an unsightly trail of plastic bottles, cups and assorted trash from

upstream communities in its wake.

Nature’s always telling her stories to those willing to listen… and she gets help

from others.

[MUS—GENE SEQUENCING]

I like to think that beginning with prehistoric pictographs… artists have been

faithfully interpreting and retelling nature’s stories—reminding us that we are

not simply observers… but are important characters in this ongoing saga.

Today’s podcast is the debut of an occasional series we’re calling The Art of

Nature. It’s where we tell the story of an artist who tells the stories of Nature

through their work.

This time we put the spotlight on San Antonio painter Jesus Toro Martinez.

We learn what inspired the artists’ current series of oversized canvases, and

how he uses them to share tales of the wonder, beauty and fragility of our

world, and our role in it. Stay with us.

[MUS—HOWDY]

From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about

nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

[SFX—THUNDER/RAIN MIX]

When rain falls, it does so seemingly without meaning or intention other than the

fulfilment of its own nature. But to Jesus Toro Martinez—who goes by Toro—rain

is his painting partner, providing inspiration and a depth of meaning to his work by

delivering raw materials to him for use in his latest series of canvases.

Originally titled Creeks and Rivers he renamed the series of abstract oil paintings

Tierra [TEE-air-ah] Sagrada [SAH-grah-dah] or Sacred Land. Many of the pieces

reference degradation of riparian vegetation due to changes in land use practices.

[01—TORO—14] I’m trying to come up with a visual of land erosion. This is

what happens when you have a lot of rainwater, climate change, and different

other things that happen to our earth.

[MUS—QUICK RHYTHMIC STABS]

To further emphasize human impact on our land, Martinez creates pigments from

trash he forages from creek sides, river banks and beaches …after episodes of

heavy rain.

This past spring, I joined Toro at Fisherman’s Park in Bastrop, along the Colorado

River, for a scouting expedition.

[02—TORO—18] I come look at different locations and see how beautiful it is.

And after a storm [I] come back to the same location and see what trash has been

brought in; and that’s how I start the first step of looking for my art.

[MUS—STREETS OF LAREDO]

Toro was born and raised in Webb county…

[03—TORO—02] The U.S. Mexico border…

Next to Zacate Creek inside Laredo city limits.

[SFX—WATER FLOWING]

[04—TORO—10] After a good rain, you would see trash flowing through. I

started trying to follow the trail. Connecting the dots [use echo effect].

Toro was a young adult when the Texas Department of Transportation debuted its

Don’t Mess with Texas anti-littering campaign, which continues to this day.

[MUS—DMWTX LUCAS NELSON EDIT]

The message… underscored his parents’ advice to have pride in and take

responsibility for the place…he called home. Among other things, that meant not littering

as well as picking up litter when he saw it. It felt like a losing battle at times because,

as he told me, many people in his community appeared indifferent to the issue of litter.

[MUS—CONCRETE FEET / SFX—FLOWING WATER]

Years later, Toro realized the trash problem didn’t begin or end in Laredo, and the

lack of urgency about solving it was not unique to residents of his hometown.

Much of the garbage in Zacate creek that doesn’t end up on land…travels to the

Rio Grande where some of it…

[SFX—SEAGULLS / OCEAN WAVES]

…eventually washes out into the Gulf of Mexico.

The scene that’s playing out in Zacate creek…takes place in creeks and rivers

throughout the Lone Star State.

Remember those dots Toro was connecting? He eventually came to understand that

each one links urban and rural communities throughout Texas to a glut of seen

litter and unseen pollutants that hitch rides downstream in creeks, rivers and storm

drains…fouling adjacent land along the way; some of it reaching the gulf,

including sensitive wetland areas that serve as nurseries for important Texas sport

fish.

By the time he understood the connection, Toro had found his voice and success as

an artist. He decided to use both to interpret and tell this particular story, and over

time…hopefully help to rewrite its ending.

[MUS—ZAMFIERCE]

[05—TORO—38] Back then [as a young person], I didn’t understand. But

now, we’re paying for it. We’re paying by—that little piece of plastic bag that

starts elsewhere in a commerce area, ends up on a creek bed or in a river. Going

down to the gulf, these will end up down there, shortly. Not knowing when. And it

comes back to us in the food chain. Let’s clean our rivers and creeks. And, I’m just

trying to create more caution among everyone. Like, where things come from.

What are we doing? What are we eating? And, it’s important.

Scientists from the Harte Research Institute and Mission-Aransas National

Estuarine [Es-tyur-een] Research Reserve tell us that most marine trash is plastic;

some we inflict on ourselves and some is inflicted upon us as ocean currents

deposit trash onto Texas shores from other countries.

As these plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces, wildlife and fish that

ingest them may experience a change in behavior or reproduction, or even death.

At this time, we don’t have sufficient data to link the consumption of seafood

affected by plastic with impacts on human health. However, this issue is currently

under scrutiny worldwide.

[MUS—ELECTRIC JUNGLE]

From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about

nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Support from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation allows us to bring you

stories from Under the Texas Sky. In fact, since 1991, the Foundation has raised

more than $190 million to conserve the lands, waters and wildlife of our state.

You can help by becoming a member. Find out how at WeWillNotBeTamed.org

[MUS—EVEN STEVENS]

Jesus Toro Martinez is a Texas-born San Antonio artist, who collects discarded

plastic grocery bags and bottles, aluminum cans and other miscellaneous items

from along creek and river banks and beaches (as well as materials foraged from

elsewhere)—and then incorporates them into his evocative oversized abstract oil

paintings.

[06—TORO—25] All this trash will become part of my work. You know,

getting ugly things. Getting plastic bags. You know, candy wrappers. And different

things. Plastic cups. Pieces of metal that you…you… see all this. And, uh…beer

cans. And, everything. All that becomes the actual material that comes to my work,

itself.

This past spring, we met at Fisherman’s Park in Bastrop, under partly cloudy skies,

to take in the serene beauty of this shady bend of the more than 600-mile long

river.

The Colorado originates south of Lubbock and cuts a diagonal path through the

state—with various tributaries flowing into it—until everything drains into

Matagorda Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. This means there’s the potential for plenty

of “upstream” input of trash and other pollutants before its waters reach the coast.

[SFX—GOOSE / DUCK / GRACKLE]

Toro said he was visiting the park to assess its condition ahead of a rain storm

predicted for later in the week.

[07—TORO—34] It’s a beautiful day. You see people fishing, you see wild

animals just…uh… roaming around. You even see the water down to the base. I

like to see that. Pretty soon we’re going to start seeing some storms here in

Central Texas. This view is going to change dramatically. Then, you’ll see the

trash coming down. The trash that we see in downtown Austin. It’s going to start

flowing down this way.

[SFX—THUNDER AND RAIN]

The rains came…. and went…and the state’s creeks and rivers transported

carelessly discarded trash through Central and South Texas.

Instead of meeting again in Bastrop, Toro invited me to his gallery and studio in

San Antonio’s Lone Star Art District to see how he works with foraged raw

materials.

He didn’t have to ask me twice…so I hopped in my car…

23b [SFX—DRIVING CAR]

…and took a little road trip to the Alamo City.

[MUS—WINTER CARAVAN]

Called the Lone Star Art Space, Toro’s studio encompasses several rooms in a

large warehouse, which is surrounded by other warehouses—many of which have

artists as tenants—in an area some people describe as sketchy.

Residents and those who appreciate art simply call it the Lone Star Art District.

[SFX—CUTTING ALUMINUM CAN]

[08—TORO—34] This morning I got some trash along the San Pedro Creek,

here outside my studio. And I’m cutting—this is a piece of aluminum can—I’m

cutting [it into] pieces so I can put it into my grinder and start making different

levels of pigment. That’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to create something that would

really…uh…create a feel of something, like something flying on my painting. I’m

not there yet, but I’m more concentrating [on] the pigment, itself.

[SFX—GRINDING ALUMINUM]

The grinder he used was a heavy-duty blender that looked as though it had been to

war. Once the aluminum started to tangle with the blades, it created a confetti

storm.

[08—TORO—34] This cut aluminum is going to become little flakes.

It became shiny little flakes as well as curly cues.

[TORO] You see my pile of trash here in the studio. That’s from this

morning.

Toro saves the trash he forages… eventually turning it into pigment.

He emptied the aluminum fragments from the grinder into a jar that he sealed and

placed in a large, worn, paint-spattered trunk that sat in the middle of the room,

which contained neatly arranged cans of paint medium, jars of pigment, brushes,

rags and rubber gloves.

Next, he removed a jar from the chest: in it, the pulverized remains of a copper

gutter…

[SFX—DEMOLITION]

…that he salvaged from a dilapidated San Antonio home that had been razed.

Next, he poured a pungent liquid from one of the cans into a large glass jar.

[SFX—POURING LIQUID INTO JAR]

[09—TORO—36] I am going to mix some copper into this. Making paint is

very simple. You get pigment. You get a paint medium. And combine it together.

I’ve created copper paint. And what I added was a little bit of Damar varnish,

premixed with linseed oil—equal parts—with raw pigment together.

Toro had an oil cloth spread over the studio floor, topped with a four by eight-foot

canvas, already in progress. It was alive with color and movement, but too

abstract for me to recognize what the artist wanted me to see.

[10—TORO—37] This is a summer painting. If you look at it, the white part is

white pigment diluted, and those are flowers. And the yellow you see here is bee

pollen. Bee pollen that you get… I cheated. I went to a grocery store and actually

bought it, you know, and came back and reinvented it into paint. This has a little

bit of tar. A little bit of shoe polish. A little bit of floor polish and copper. And, of

course, aluminum. This is more like my signature process of how I paint. You can

either see it as an abstract or see it as a landscape.

Toro dipped a fresh foam brush into the jar of copper-based paint he’d just made…

[SFX—FLICKING PAINT]

… as he hit the brush against the rim of the jar, he sent fat drops of viscous purple

liquid splashing onto the canvas below. Next, he grabbed a shop broom that was

leaning against a wall, near his pile of trash…

[SFX—PAINTING WITH BROOM]

…and used it as a kind of giant paintbrush, moving colors across the surface of the

canvas until…grasses materialized before my eyes. For a minute I thought maybe the fumes in

the room had gotten the best of me and I was seeing things that weren’t there…

[11—TORO—05] There’s good ventilation in this building because it has so

many holes. So, don’t worry about it.

I didn’t really worry. But I was delighted to see how the grasses in the painting

began to reveal themselves with each stroke across the canvas. In truth, it was

more like a suggestion of grass. It was an abstract painting, after all.

[12—TORO—29] I started working with some ideas showing different types of

native grass. And I’ve laid down the groundwork. Now I’m coming back and

producing the actual imagery that would reflect that. I’m halfway there. I have to

let it dry, come back, extract, attract, put more stuff on it, but then really redevelop

it into what I am about to create.

[SFX—PAINTING / TORO / CECILIA—28]

[TORO] What I’m doing here…I am creating some lines. I am trying to create the

underneath painting to come out and overlap…so it would create a translucent

idea when you’re seeing the actual work.

[Cecilia] So like you’re looking through the grasses?

[TORO] Yes. Definitely. And this is what I’m actually doing.

[MUS—SPARK DREAMS]

In the end, Toro Martinez would have a bold painting depicting human influence

on the land, creeks, rivers and wetlands of our state by incorporating items

discarded by the people of Texas into his art. Something that he admits makes him

a bit nervous.

[13—TORO]

[TORO] I’m always scared about people not loving it, because it’s like I’m using

ugly things—things that nobody wants. You know, trash. And materials that are not

beautiful. Materials meant to go to the landfill and let it be there; they’re not

meant to come into somebody’s living room. I’m very grateful for these people who

acquire these and let my vision keep going, and let people know about protecting

our creeks and our rivers and our wetlands here in Texas. And this is more or less

a way of me trying to advocate for that: me showing it in my work but then

showing it the process of where it came from. And that’s what I am trying to say.

I’m trying to tell a story using the materials that were left behind.

[MUS—REASON TO SUCCEED]

Lone Star Art Space participates in Second Saturdays, a free family friendly

monthly Artwalk event every second Saturday of the month in the Lone Star Art

District.

Meanwhile, Jesus Toro Martinez will exhibit his current series of oil paintings

called Tierra Sagrada/Sacred Land at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American

Cultural Center in Austin. The opening reception is September 13 and the show

runs through November 23.

[MUS—WALKIN’ BASS RETURN—STING]

Before we end the podcast, another artist is here to close the show with a Shout Out

to the Wild.

[ALI ZANDI] What’s up Everyone. My name’s Ali Zandi, and I’m a landscape

photographer based in Austin. And here is my Shout out to the Wild.

[MUS—FRUIT OF THE DESERT]

[ALI ZANDI] So, I’ve got a fixin’ for all sort of photography. But, I have to

admit landscapes are one of my favorite subjects to shoot. Because for me, it’s a

chance to kinda get outside and bond with the earth. Everything from the lines,

colors, shapes and reflections can all be visually appealing. Especially when they

all work together. Um…as hard as it is sometimes, it’s worth trying to grab that

shot exactly as you have it pictured in your head. And that’s what I love about

landscape photography. There is no shortage of amazing landscapes here in

Texas—so I guess I lucked out a bit. So, some of my recent adventures include

canoeing to Devil’s Waterhole on Inks Lake, shooting the Milky Way in the

darkness at Enchanted Rock, and hiking some of the awesome terrain at

Pedernales. So, grab your hat, your sunscreen and some water, and I’ll see you on

the trails.

What do you love about the Texas outdoors; what have you experienced that you’d

like to share with the world? Tell us with your own Shout Out to the Wild. Just go

to underthetexassky.org and click on the Get Involved link—like landscape

photographer, Ali Zandi of Austin did. We’ll be in touch.

[MUS—TO ORBIT YOUR SOUL]

And so, we come to the end of another podcast. Under the Texas Sky is a

production of Texas Parks and Wildlife and is available at UndertheTexasSky.org

or wherever you get your podcasts.

We record the podcast at The Block House in Austin, Texas. Joel Block does our

sound design.

I’m your producer and host, Cecilia Nasti, reminding you that life’s better outside

when you’re Under the Texas Sky.

Major support for this podcast comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife

Foundation: Conserving Our Wild Things and Wild Places for Over 25 Years.

Join us again next time for Under the Texas Sky.

[TORO—10] And the yellow you see here is bee pollen. Bee pollen that you

get…uh…I cheated. I went to a grocery store and actually bought it…