DTLA ART WALK
Eloy Torrez & Juliane Backmann: Profiles
Collaborations can be messy. But magic happens when it works well, like painter/musician Eloy Torrez and photographer/filmmaker Juliane Backmann who have been creating collaborative magic for nearly 10 years. Their mix of genres, powerful visuals, original music, and social commentary combine to produce captivating storytelling.
The duo first met in 1993 through a mutual friend. Juliane had moved to Downtown Los Angeles in 1991 from her native Germany to work as a professional photographer. She started off as a photojournalist in Hamburg, as well as Munich where she graduated from the Academy of Photo Design.
Eloy, by that time, had been working out of a studio in Downtown since 1983, and was an established artist known for his masterly realist paintings and massive wall murals. Born in New Mexico, he came to LA from the desert town of Barstow, California in 1979 to attend Otis Art Institute. After graduating, he got a job restoring murals through the CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) program. Large-scale mural commissions quickly followed. His early work includes the 1983 “Legends of Hollywood” that was destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake; and the 1985 “Mural of Muralists.” His 1985 “Pope of Broadway” mural, located in Downtown, has garnered legendary status. He was able to restore it between 2016-2017 after seven years of battling bureaucracy and fund-raising.
Over the years, Juliane and Eloy have participated individually and as partners in Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk events. “I know Qathryn [Brehm] from way, way back,” says Juliane. “There have been a lot of changes since the Art Walk began in 2004, with old galleries gone and new galleries moving in. In the beginning there was no entertainment component. Now there’s so much going on.” Eloy has participated in Downtown Art Walk’s Historic Core Mural Tours as a walking tour guide. His engaging, insider backstories have revealed the historical importance the Downtown art murals have played in the formerly dominant Latino community, and in educating the public.
Their first collaboration, “Inside the Box” (2010) includes scenes from the Art Walk. Set to Eloy’s song of the same title, the video is directed, photographed and edited by Juliane. Eloy is featured as a white-faced figure parodying totalitarian leaders that is interspersed with images of his mouth voicing commands from a computer screen. “It became this kind of sci-fi idea of society and humanity and information,” he explains. “While we’re using the Internet what are ‘they’ gathering on us? Is technology a good thing or a bad thing? Interestingly, it pertains to what’s going on today.”
Their video “Caught in Conversation” (2011) is a commentary on LA’s art scene, again using Eloy’s original music with Juliane producing the visuals shot mainly in Downtown. A compilation of their combined works can be seen in their video “Flashback to Now” (2014) based on their exhibition at Edgar Varela Fine Art in 2012.
“As a kid, I always liked music and art,” says Eloy. “As the years went by, I found that after painting for three or four hours I needed to do some other activity besides the visual, so I would play my guitar. After over twenty years of repeating this process I ended up a decent songwriter. I’m trying to tell stories with my songs, which is what I also try to do with my paintings.”
“By trade, I am a fine art still photographer, but have made quite a few short videos,” explains Juliane. She mentions her recent 30-minute film, “The Pope of Broadway Revisited” about Eloy’s remarkable restoration of the “Pope of Broadway” mural. “It took many years to get the funding for the restoration, and the organizations and building owners to allow it. And when it finally happened it was of course a great opportunity for me to shoot the process, and tell the story.” Screenings were held at various locations in 2017, including the Art Walk Lounge.
A photography/drawing collaboration titled, “From the Fondaco to San Michele” (left) from their 2013 Emily Harvey Foundation residency in Venice, Italy clearly shows their distinctive styles — framed with storytelling. As with most of their work, the viewer is invited to freely imagine their own story, inspired by what they see. In the work, Juliane includes two of her striking architectural / urban landscapes, void of people. Like in a dream, the winding pathway in the lower photo beckons the viewer to follow toward the mysterious destination in the upper photo. There, one must cross a bridge fashioned with white guardrails. A bridge symbolizing transitions? Are the two vivid faces drawn by Eloy – an old man and young woman — the characters one meets along the way?
The work reveals how their collaborations evolve organically. Juliane explains that she purposely photographed the Venice locations without people, so Eloy could add them. For Eloy, the characters evoke memories of his childhood influenced by the Catholic Church where many of the religious paintings feature Italian faces. “I was very excited to see Italian faces in a more contemporary context, and planned to tie those in with Juliane’s urban landscapes.” He chose a man they had seen almost every day who reminded him of a Renaissance character. “And she was a little bit more contemporary,” he says pointing to the female face.
Juliane reveals that her photograph of the eerie Venice pathway was shot on Isola di San Michele, known as ‘cemetery island.’ Her other photo in the work shows the Rialto Bridge that visually leads one to the historic Fondaco dei Tedeschi. The work follows the journeying theme the pair often uses in their collaborations.
For both Eloy and Juliane the creative journey continues. “In the last few years I’ve been discovering things about myself,” reveals Eloy. “In a way, I think I’m trying to catch up. I’ve been all over the place — murals, music, in bands as part of the New Wave – trying to find myself. Once you find yourself, it’s easier to put that across in your work because you can be technically good at something. But what are you going to say? He pauses, and laughs. “You’d think at this stage in my life I would have found it.” Juliane adds quietly, “I think that part will never stop for both of us – the experimentation, the search.”
Originally posted on downtownartwalk.org.