Cristina Toro with artwork.

Cristina Toro with artwork.

Tell us about yourself. What was it like where you grew up? Where are you now?

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I feel blessed to have spent my formative years in such a wildly gorgeous place. I grew up in a lovely house, with bananas growing in the garden, and orchids hanging from the trees. I have many great memories of swimming in the ocean, walking in the rainforest, and spending time with my family in the mountains. Some of the first paintings I saw were graffiti on the walls surrounding the settlement of old San Juan. My father indulged me when I invented theories regarding their origins. Maybe they were the fractured cave paintings or coded alphabet of a long forgotten indigenous people? The language and foods of my childhood still have a powerful grip on my nostalgic heart. I know for certain that during this time I was given the little clues and hints from the universe that helped put me on the right path for the rest of my life. Many years later I find myself living on top of a hill in Upstate NY. I fell in love with someone, and together we have made a place here to live and work that feels miraculous and somehow perfect. This particular moment is a time of big growth and change. I just moved into a new home and studio — so, everything feels mysterious and exciting. It has been a long and intense winter, and, finally, the time has come when the snow drops are blooming and the sunsets are getting longer and more psychedelic.

The Hill. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

The Hill. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

How would you describe your style, and when did you find it?

My style of painting is so personal, and has existed in one incarnation or another since I was a little girl drawing in my notebooks. As I grow and change, so does the look and feeling of my paintings. The more I devote myself to my practice, the clearer the message comes across. I try to make images in a way that allows me to maximize the things I enjoy about physically putting paint down. I like color, detail, making lots of tiny marks…so I have developed a style that makes lots of room for these things.

I always have images passing through my mind’s eye. It is up to me to help them transition from the invisible world of the mind into the material world here with me. It’s necessary to develop a daily practice, and take good care of myself in order to be a good medium for the images to pass through me. Style works itself out over time if you are being true to yourself and attune yourself to the right frequency. Make no apologies, bring it on, fight for the the images you want to make, no matter how embarrassing they might be. The personal is always the universal.

Invisible Bee. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Invisible Bee. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

 

Fuzzy Ocean Wet Moth. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Fuzzy Ocean Wet Moth. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

The Pleiades. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

The Pleiades. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Do you have a daily routine? When do you paint? What inspires you to? Are you a morning person or a night person?

Painting happens in between everything else and then another day begins. There are blocks of hours everyday in the morning, afternoon, and evening where I do nothing but paint, but I also try to eat quiet meals, spend time with my animals, go outside, and share the details of my day with my husband. When you strip everything else away, there are the constellations of little pleasures, the planets of necessity, but in the galaxy of my life — all the heavenly bodies orbit around my time in the studio and the ones I love. There is never a lack of inspiration. Everything is always moving forward and all things can be looked upon as a creative act. When I get an unexpected phone call from a friend, I pick it up and do some dishes while I talk, sprout greens in a jar, or make something that will be part of dinner that evening. I like the rituals surrounding both the morning and the night, but when left to my own devices I am a night person. Put me right there in the same category as the moths, owls, stars, and the moon herself.

Bee's Milk The Ocean. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Bee’s Milk The Ocean. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

How much of a role do memories play in your work? Dreams?

While I think memories and dreams are an important part of my work, they tend to manifest in subconscious and hopefully un-self-conscious ways. Often I think I am doing something for one reason and then months later I look at an image and I can see how it relates to events or people in my life. I never set out to paint with a planned image in mind, so the end result is a complete surprise to me. Working this way definitely has its challenges but I find it to be much more rewarding and revelatory. It always works out and I always learn something new about myself. The act of making the painting sometimes has the feeling of a dream or a memory. I think when something is so determined to exist, there is a kind of recognition that happens when you stand back and look at the finished product. Perhaps a form of deja vu. You don’t know what the path will look like, but you know you will be there soon.

Moon Walk. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Moon Walk. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Who are your artistic influences?

There are so many inspiring people who have shaped my views on what it means to make a creative life for myself.

Some that come to mind are: Louise Bourgeois, Augustin Lesage, William Morris, Nellie Mae Rowe, Henry Darger, Emma Kunz, Hilma af Klint, Juliette de Bariacli Levi, The Club From Nowhere, Fritz Haeg, Anne Truitt, Annie Albers, Lucie Rie, Justine Kurland, Violeta Parra, Kiki Smith — this list could go on forever and ever.

What else do you spend your time doing?

I am very interested in studying plant-based medicine, making ceramic sculptures, gardening, and reading as many new things as I can. Lately I have been making some homemade birch honey, Chaga tea, adding wild edibles into my salads, researching the Voynich Manuscript, reading Love in The Time of Cholera, and The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. I have a wonderful little dog, and this week we have been spending time planting things in our garden to enjoy later in the season. My husband is an amazing artist and a chemist who I love talking to and spending time with. I am looking forward to summer swims in my pond and arranging flowers for contemplation.

What is the best trip you’ve ever been on?

My honeymoon on the Big Island of Hawaii has a special place in my heart. We were visiting during the time that whales migrate there to breed and give birth. Hawaii is very unusual. It has to be seen and experienced to be fully understood. The same goes for the time I spent wandering the gardens and temples of Japan while preparing for an exhibition of my paintings in Tokyo. Both islands are unique and larger than life. They feel connected to each other somehow.

Can you describe the process of your work coming to be a part of a museum’s collection? How does that happen?

Museums often rely on philanthropic supporters of the arts to purchase works that they are interested in and donate them to their collection. The painting I have on display at the Mint Museum was donated by a wonderful, generous, and anonymous patron of the arts. I feel very honored to have a painting in such a vibrant North Carolina Museum. That particular painting is very meaningful to me. It encapsulates all of the important themes in my work and marks a special moment in my life. I miss her but it makes me happy to hear so many stories from friends and strangers who have encountered the painting by surprise.

The Invisible Life of Small Things. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

The Invisible Life of Small Things. Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Mountains or ocean?

Water and Earth are both very important elements in my life. Where I live, there is a view of the mountains all around me. On my land there is a beautiful little stream and a spring fed pond to swim in. That said, I try to venture out and say hello to the ocean at least once a year. It seems strange not touch down with the sea during a yearly cycle of life, considering I spent my entire childhood surrounded by water. I can’t choose one over the other. I want the whole thing. A view of the ocean with mountains in the distance.

The symbology of your work makes it seem spiritual to me, in a way. Would you say that?

I would say that my work definitely has a spiritual component to it, albeit not a traditional straightforward one. Many of my favorite works of art happen to be devotional or ritualistic in some way. I am amazed at the power that an object of devotion can hold when it has been touched by the hearts and hands of many devotees offering small gifts, prayers, and burning incense and candles in its presence. Our minds are very powerful, and to believe in something with fierce piety has the capacity to transform almost anything at the molecular level. Certain paintings, sculptures, and even people have an undeniable special feeling about them. This is worth investigating. I am always interested in the things that we know are there but can’t see. A sense of ritual astonishment when faced with the infinite wonders of our universe is always present in my approach to painting. I live for the unknowable truths and indescribable things. Something as simple as an iris bulb producing from within itself a seemingly endless stream of blooms is very sacred to me.

Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

What motivates you and keeps you going?

There are so many paintings I want to make! This is enough to keep me going.

I am a very happy woman with many opportunities every day to determine my own unique destiny.

I like it here on this jewel-like planet. I want to stay tuned to see what happens next. Hope springs eternal.

Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Courtesy of Cristina Toro.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for budding artists?

Yes. Build your life in a way that maximizes your time, space, and ability to make the best work possible. You must work diligently, but do not make the mistake of neglecting your friends, family, and community. Your work will sustain you, but you need other human relationships and intimacy to stay balanced and fulfilled. This is not easy, but you have to be brave. I really believe that if you are making the most incredible work you possibly can the world will find you. Buy or barter goods from people around you who spend time making or growing things by hand on a small scale. It feels good to eat soup out of a handmade bowl with its tiny imperfections and signs of life. Take care of other people the way you wish they would take care of you. I choose not to live in a vibrant, buzzing city. In fact, I live in the middle of nowhere. Where I find myself, the landscape is unthinkably beautiful, space is affordable, and I can enjoy a good quality of life. There may be less in some ways, but there are hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. I am convinced that my home is a vortex for some kind of strange everyday magic. There is a sharper focus here, less madness. That said, I have a computer so I can see what other artists are doing in other parts of the world, look at the digital archives of the best museums in high definition, flip through scans of rare books and illuminated manuscripts.These impossible things can take place on my kitchen table; from my home in the proverbial woods. We are connected to each other and to all of art history in new and profound ways. Keep your eyes open. Sometimes you might get little messages or pieces of advice from the big cosmic web of information. I was recently on a date when out from the speakers came the chorus of a Jimmy Cliff song that I have heard a million times. Only this time I heard it anew. Some very solid advice:

You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try, try and try, try and try
You’ll succeed at last

What has been your biggest adventure?

My biggest adventure has been to create the life I always wanted with the right person by my side. Sometimes people think I am quiet and meek, but the real me is relentless and brave. I have worked very hard to build a life that I am proud of; and refused to settle for anything else than “a love supreme” when picking my mate. My husband is pure of heart and his genius mind is a force to be reckoned with. Underestimate him at your own peril. Everywhere we go I hear all of the stories that make up his great mythology and the many ways he has helped or amazed people with his kind heart and many talents. There is no doubt that being with him has elevated my consciousness and helped me to take the chances I needed to in order to push my work further. Giving your heart completely over to the things you love and the people around you leaves you completely vulnerable. This is the greatest adventure of all, and the rewards are many.

What’s next for you and your work?

I am participating in some group shows this summer and preparing for a large solo show in Charlotte, NC this fall at a new gallery called “LACA Projects” with a focus on Latin American Contemporary Art. It is the first time my paintings will be put into the context of my cultural background, and I am excited to revisit my ancestral roots and consider the impact that growing up in Puerto Rico has had on my paintings.

What are you listening to?

I am listening a lot to the sounds emerging from the outside world as the weather warms up, and I open all my windows. Winter is so quiet that the sounds of impending Spring make my heart burst with happiness. The wind sounds pretty incredible where I reside, so do the birds, frogs, far away dogs, raindrops, and tiny insects that sound like choirs of angels. Sometimes I play music softly in the background during dinner, or while I cook. Some classic favorites are Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, and Jackson C Frank. Some new discoveries are Julie Byrne and the Lijadu Sisters.

When I paint in the studio I tend to listen to lectures, radio shows, and podcasts. I need a lot of information going into my ears so I can free my mind up for painting. My absolute favorite thing to listen to these days is “The Duncan Trussell Family Hour.” A podcast with a heart of gold. It is the strangest and most beautiful take on the medium that I have found. I really can’t say enough good things about it. It is serious business. Not for the fearful or faint of heart.