Breaking the frame

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According to Astoria resident and artist Jairo Toro, contemporary art is not about using technical skill to draw realistic pictures, but about creating a new way to see art. Toro designs sculptures using plywood and acrylic paint that leap beyond the bounds of the conventional canvas to make statements about modern art and society.

“The concept of modern art is to bring different ideas to traditional painting,” Toro said. “I’m taking apart the frame and adding another dimension to traditional painting. What I’m trying to do now is use recyclable materials and technology. The idea is to design ensembles.” Toro said he also uses more modern materials such as acrylic paint, which dries faster and is easier to mix than the oil paint that artists have used in the past.

Toro’s wooden sculptures are two-dimensional, although, he said, “they aim toward a three-dimensional visual illusion.” Each piece can be exhibited by itself or combined with one another. Comparing art to making music, Toro has designed some of the sculptures to look like notes on a music sheet.

To memorialize the victims of the plane crash into the Pentagon on 9/11, he also created a carving in the shape of a pentagon with coffins encircling it.

With a career spanning three decades, Toro has achieved a level of success that has given him opportunities to exhibit his work in museums and galleries in New York, Paris and South America.

At an exhibit at the Modern Art Museum of Bogota in 1983, one art critic commented, “Jairo Toro produces assemblages with wood, canvas and acrylic that he places over big surfaces which function poetically. Toro works the relationship between the different forms with great delicacy and uses only very saturated tones in strategic places to add lyrical accents to an already extremely sophisticated visual language.”

Growing up in Pereira, Colombia, Toro was encouraged by his father to draw cartoons from newspapers. His uncle, who had a more artistic bent, taught him the technical aspects of drawing and pushed him to work with watercolor.

Toro, however, believes his decision to become an artist happened in school. He recounted: “I remember in elementary school one of the teachers saw me doing drawings all the time, so he asked me, ‘Can you draw for me on the board the features of the body to explain to the anatomy class?’ I said I would do it. At that moment, I felt like I was doing something.”

Upon finishing high school, Toro moved to Colombia’s capital, Bogota, to obtain a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Bogota. After graduation, he worked as a visitor’s guide and assistant curator at the Modern Art Museum of Bogota where he later founded and developed a children’s art department.

In 1992 Toro moved to New York City, where he has continued to teach art to high-school and college students. For the past 12 years he has been the art director for the Latin American Cultural Center of Queens, and he currently teaches art to children in the after-school program at Astoria’s recreation center, ARROW. After receiving grants in past years from the Queens Council on the Arts, Toro was a member from 2004 through 2008 of the organization’s panel that decides which artists should receive its community arts funds.

Looking to his future as a Queens artist, Toro said, “I want to find the new emerging artists in Queens. These artists don’t know how to apply for grants, they don’t know how to do a budget — and I have experience with that. I want to be involved in that.”

For more information about Jairo Toro, his artwork, exhibits and art classes, you can e-mail him at or call him at (718) 607-9426.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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