For someone who describes tattooing as something that he "sort of fell into," Carlos Torres has turned what he describes as circumstance into an truly accomplished career. Revered as one of the world's most skilled contemporary black and grey tattooers, Torres has spent decades perfecting his craft, amassing a global following, and yet still grinds he is just getting started.
Evolving as a multi-faceted artist, Torres has the kind work ethic and creative itch that doesn't allow for any idle time. If he is not tattooing, he is working with oil paints and traditional canvas. His output is prolific and his contributions are undeniable.
The Southern California native recently dove into the details of what fuels his pace, how the medium of tattooing has evolved during his tenure, and how being limited to just one outlet is not something he can accept.
Was there a moment when you consciously decided that you were going to commit to pursing your artistic craft as your career?
Torres - I never really set out to be a tattoo artist. Honestly, I thought I was going to be an art teacher. But I didn’t really like going to school so I knew that wasn’t going to work. There have been a few twists and turns in my life and because of it all I sort of fell into tattooing. I remember my first tattoo was in a friend’s living room. All my homeboys thought just because I knew how to draw that I knew how to tattoo. We were young and dumb, but that’s how it all started for me.
What kind of sacrifice have you had to make to get to where you are?
Torres - I have many a sleepless night, missed out on spending time with my family and lost relationships. It has all been worth it, but it has taken years of hard work and sacrifice to get where I am today.
Do you feel like tattooers are stigmatized in ways other artists aren't?
Torres - Tattooers have always been stigmatized. To the general public there was a seedy, unsafe element to tattooing. It was for bikers or gang members. Times have definitely changed and tattooing is less taboo these days. Now it’s common to have a tattoo and some of my clients are lawyers, surgeons and teachers. After 25 years of tattooing I have seen a lot of change. I remember the days when old school tattooers would make fun of you if you could draw or make art outside of tattooing. Nowadays there is so much information that is so readily available. Painters, tattooers and all artists can exchange info and have open dialogue about their craft.
Who has influenced you, regardless of the medium.
Torres - I would start with classical painters as my inspiration. The old masters like Caravaggio, John Singer Sargent and Alphonse Mucha to name a few. As far as tattooers go, Robert Hernandez and Paul Booth are probably my biggest tattoo influences. Nowadays there are so many young, up and coming tattooers producing amazing work that I am constantly inspired and influenced.
How does music factor into your craft? What are you usually listening to?
Torres - When I am really trying to grind and get work down, I play rock and roll or metal. I can put that on and really get into a grove with tattooing and it keeps me motivated.
How has being from Southern California shaped who you are as an artist?
Torres - Los Angeles is home to so much different culture and art. There is access to art education, exhibits, installations and an artistic community. LA is also home to Chicano culture and black & grey tattooing. Artists from all over the world are inspired by and replicating a style that grew out of the streets of LA.
Living in Los Angeles, it is hard not to be inspired and shaped as an artist, I feel lucky that people took a chance on me and supported my art.
What has been the work you are most proud of thus far? Which work up to this point is the best example of your full potential?
Torres - I don’t think that I have reached my full potential. I always have something to learn and skills to sharpen. If I am not changing or growing, then I am not pushing myself hard enough. I am still having so much fun tattooing, painting and sculpting that I don’t think I can really pinpoint one specific piece that I am most proud of.
Was there ever any time you thought about walking away from your work?
Torres - Never.
Legacy. What do you hope people will remember from your work long after you are gone?
Torres - I would hope that people would remember me as an all-around artist. Mucha, who is one of my favorites, is remembered for his paintings, graphics, sculptures, drawings, and jewelry. I would like to be remembered in that way and don’t want to be limited to just one thing. I always want to keep growing and exploring new mediums. If I can continue to learn and bring new skills to my tattoos, I want to do that.