Swinging Between Styles: Painter Tana Torrent on Translating Travels and Emotions into Art
I was smoking a cigarette outside SacSix's Free Bacon at Benson’s. A woman with a curly fro and a British accent asked if this was the art show, I said yes, and gave her a cigarette. This was my first encounter with Tana Torrent, a traveler of London, Paris, and New York, a fine artist of emotions, a tempest of creative and soul.
I got to know Tana over the next few weeks during a group show visit she was in at The Living Gallery Outpost, and we later got drinks at Stanley’s. Staying within the Bushwick vibes, we met for an interview at my home-base in the 3rd Ethos Collective. While Connie managed the gallery and showing artists around, I sat with Tana in the backroom lounge.
Tana has an aura — cool, calm, collected, and a bit-out-of-sorts — something she communicates through painting, among other mediums. She told me about her creative journey: abstraction, spirituality, and what it means to simply be.
Up, Down, and Out in London and Paris
“I was born in Darby, East Midlands, south of Sheffield around Lester. Cool area. It’s got a bit of an accent.”
Although born in England, Tana is a global soul. Her grandmother immigrated from Jamaica, her mother is first generation English, and her father, who ran a jazz bar, is French. Tana’s mother was a designer and operated an organic fair-trade children’s apparel store. As a kid, Tana and her sister, both raised in matching outfits, would lay on the floor, while their mom cuts cloth around them. Her parents divorced while she was young, but still played a role in her in life.
Inheriting certain creative sensibilities, Tana had a natural aptitude for art. In her teen years, she got into anime and would draw manga. As she puts it, “I’ve always been into the — not necessarily surreal, rather, the non-formal perspective of things.”
In high school, she focused on art, photography, and graphics. However, her adventurous spirit led her adrift, as several teachers told her, “Tana, you have talent. But you’re lazy.”
At 17, she began working as a bartender. There in Oliver’s, her father’s spot, she absorbed the atmosphere of jazz and local intellectual chit-chat. Still, she felt a restlessness growing in her soul.
There was tension in the small apartment home, despite the good intentions of her morally acute mother. Tana needed to get out. She opted to move to Paris. Her friends thought she was crazy. But at 19, Tana packed up and crossed the English Channel. She found refuge in the home of a friend, which left her free to explore.
Being half-French, Tana felt a strange connection to the foreign culture.
“I wanted to connect with that part of myself that I didn’t really know.”
Knowing only a few people and not being able to speak French, it was a gamble. But she took the jump.
“I’m pretty stubborn and determined when I make my mind up about something.”
Tana lived in Paris for four-years. When she landed, she lived on the outskirts of the city, a first for the city-center girl. “I could hear the birds in the morning.” She joked.
By the end of the first year, she could parler en français and had learned how to get around. She would cycle about Paris by herself, exploring the city.
Living abroad, she gained an appreciation for the French way of life, and what it means to be an ex-pat of the global variety.
"It flipped my whole perspective culturally, about what we expect from other people.”
Tana took in the romance of the unfamiliar with an open mind.
“I’ve been swinging between different styles…. the main focus of my art is about emotional states.”
In Paris, Tana didn’t paint often. Rather, she made her way around the music scene, but soon found herself pulled back toward photography via her boyfriend at the time. Another mixed ex-pat in the city of love, they traded tips of the trade. It was also in Paris she met Sam Samore, her friend and mentor.
The two met at a bar and hit it off. They toured the galleries of Paris together. Sam guided Tana to think more creatively, showing her art books and offering advice, both practical and spiritual. And when rough times have hit, Sam lent his couch for a place to lay her head. Years later, they reconnected in New York.
As a painter, Tana blends styles. Rothko the color abstractionist and Francis Bacon the figurativist father of emotionally charged imagery; both play a strong role in Tana’s work. Picasso too, particularly his depictions of the female form.
“We always want to make thing look nice …And things aren’t always nice.” Tana reflected. “There’s beauty in sadness.”
A natural bohemian, the streets have also piqued her taste. Although not a spray-can connoisseur herself, “street art is something I really fucking admire.” In particular, Tana is a fan of Revok, whose work she’s been following since her teenage years. Like many street artists, Tana never had a formal education in art. She learned her own way.
One of Tana’s paintings caught my eye. A nude woman lounging against a yellow background. The yellow innovation was a matter of chance.
“Yeah, that just happened out of nowhere. The studio I was at didn’t have any white primer left, so I was like ‘ah fuck it let’s just do it in yellow.’” Tana joked.
The feminine figure resembled Tana, so I sought her thoughts on paintings as self-reflection.
“They’re all self-portraits.” Tana said laughing. “It really was a laid-back feeling that I wanted to illustrate. Like, there’s me watching Netflix.”
Tana explained: “I like the female figure and I like drawing it.”
Tana spoke about the intrinsic beauty in the feminine form. Well read on myth and masterpieces, Tana found a muse in The Birth of Venus. Sandro’s Botticelli depicts Venus, the roman interpretation of Aphrodite, riding a clam shell to shore. Renaissance styles resonate in her painting. Like it’s muse, her female portrait is naked, covering her vulnerability with one arm.
We spoke of myths. Tana related some ideas she picked up from Jordan Peterson, the controversial psychologist. From this Tana has developed her own theories -
"Women are a Goddess like creature… if she accepts a man, then he is worthy. Though, primal desire works both ways.”
We talked about Helena of Troy, how her beauty supposedly drove men mad, unleashing both a savage desire and a protective captivity. There is a power in archetypes and foundational stories.
The conversation turned toward sex. Sexuality is strongly interwoven into the idea of femininity, both as a means of empowerment and a means of shame.
"Sex is a guilty pleasure… I never heard anyone complain about it.” Tana joked.
In Paris, Tana took up pole dancing for a bit of cash and adventure. Despite the stigma attached, Tana found dancing to be fun, and it helped her tone her body and core strength.
“[It was] physically enduring, mentally and emotionally challenging. And I love a challenge.”
After moving to New York she danced as well. However, it was short lived. The experience gave her insight into cultural attitudes and social mores. France has a less puritanical perspective, relative to America. In Paris, dancing was more burlesque and there was an appreciation among clientele for sensuality. In New York the mentality was more possessive, an entitled moneyed mindset.
Her dancing brought her into contact with a range of men and women. She found for many of her clients, it wasn’t about sex, they just wanted undivided attention.
“It’s sad at times how far men will go just for attention from women… and I think women take that for granted.”
The stigma attached to the industry comes with perceptions of objectification and clouded with narratives of desperation. Tana rejects narrow-minded understandings. Citing Cardi B, Tana took note of changing attitudes. “The reality is, sex sells.” Rather than squander her earnings on material possessions, Tana bought a laptop and a video camera to further her artistic career.
While one may expect Tana to be free-love pushing sort, in truth she is more traditional.
“I’m a bit of a romantic to be honest… Relationships are important to me. I like stability.
Despite the tumultuous nature of her life, or perhaps because in spite of it, Tana prefers the reliability of love over the swings of passing flings.
When I met her Tana, it was as her most recent relationship of two years was coming to an end. As she put it “he took me by storm… I didn’t understand why it was happening, but I learned from it.”
Tana avoids bad blood. All things happen for a reason. So it is for beginnings, so it is for endings. One of the problems in the relationship was that Tana didn’t want to conform to societies expectations of love. Rather, she prefers to define her own ideas of what it means for two people to be happy together.
“Expectations can lead to disappointment.”
"A flaw I’ve had as a young woman is falling hopelessly in love with the ‘idea’ of building a family.” Tana explained.
Both societal narratives of womanhood and the biological drive shaped this outlook. Tana felt ready to settle down. But now as she heals, she is ready to continue on her artistic pilgrimage, the one she left London for.
“I never wanted a 9 to 5, to be restricted by societal expressions. I don’t get it. But it is what it is… I want to move forward, I want to keep going, I want to keep growing.”
“Some people need to touch the fire, before they know it burns. … I dive straight in.” Tana said. She joked, "A little bit of a fatal flaw at times.”
Tana and I are similarly minded when it comes to spirituality; a belief in a higher energy, universal vibrations. She infuses transcendent feelings into her art.
“It’s a humbling experience when you look into something that’s greater than you, and just channel that energy."
We spoke about the stars. Tana is a Libra, a Libra rising, and a Taurus moon. Libra is an air sign, characterized by a cerebral mindset and reflective personality. As such, she always seeks to push herself, both creatively and intellectually.
In her quest for understanding, Tana has experimented with psychedelics. These can confer upon users an intense experience of divinity. It opens a broader perspective – some say a God’s eye view.
Having lived the ups and downs of life, she takes a nonjudgmental attitude towards the world. “I’ve gone through some shit… humility comes from realizing you’re not the only one.”
One of her more prophetic insights struck me. In terms of social media: “we’re so connected, we’re disconnected from ourselves.”
Tana can read tarot, though she is selective of when she pulls cards. She described the historic concept of ésotérisme, a cryptic knowledge of fundamental laws of nature. One example she related was the idea of karma within gravity. While some are dismissive of mysticism, the cards are less about knowing the future than they are about knowing your subconscious self. The law of attraction; we are drawn to characters in which we see ourselves. Archetypes of the fool’s journey.
Self-destruction and success are both, by means of conscious and unconscious acts, manifested. All prophecies are self-fulfilling. “I also have to remind myself of these things, I can forget so quickly - awareness is key to re-focus on the bigger picture.”
New York, New York
Paris, London, and New York. Each city has its own soul. Tana has seen them all.
“I get asked a lot to compare them, but there really is no comparison.”
In many ways, New York is the culmination of Tana's travels, experiences, and art.
“It was always in the back of my mind, and everything I learned was bringing me closer to here.”
As Tana has learned, the soul of the New York is composed of frantic energy.
“I had some serious anxiety when I came to city. I felt like my head was splitting in two... Painting helped me through that.”
I remarked that the never-ending pace of New York can drive anyone crazy. She chuckled.
"New York is a toxic relationship. You know it’s bad for you, but you’re still hanging around. And when you leave, you miss it.”
For all its faults, New York is a beacon of art and artists for a reason cause. Just as the city will slam you with stress, it can elevate you to your highest points.
“When you’re floating on New York, it’s the best thing ever. But when you’re struggling to keep your head above the surface, desperate to breathe…” Tana laughed. “I never understood before moving here. Only in New York... I get it now.”
New York will push you, for better or worse. When you tap into that drive, it’s a powerful force. For Tana, life’s purpose is about constantly expanding understanding of self and the world around. This is why she paints.
"I really just do it for myself. It keeps me sane. … It’s a sporadic attempt to translate a feeling into some tangible form. There are no words, there are no sounds. You can close your eyes and disappear. What’s left is a feeling. That’s what I’m trying to draw out.”
The seasons and cycles bring waves of change. You choose what you hold on to and when you let go.
As we finished up the interview, Tana offered a poetic thought:
"Even birds are tied to the sky. Keep your wings open and face whatever weather comes your way.”
Photo courtesy of Tana Torrent