In Memoriam: Emmanuel 'Eric' Torres (1932-2021)

Published October 27, 2021, 2:32 PM

by MB Lifestyle

By Richie Lerma

ArtSpeak: ‘Eric’s strength of conviction—his critical opinion—formed a large part of who I am today’

Richie Lerma

Eric Torres did not suffer fools gladly. It was a trait that we shared and, being his junior and somehow—undeservedly, seeing the roster of former students and Arts Club members that he mentored over four decades—his chosen successor to helm the Ateneo Art Gallery, one that I considered to be a badge of honor, having “passed” his very exacting standards.

Some might say Eric was exacting to a fault. I still remember how he would march sternly into the Gallery’s Print & Drawing Room at the start of his twice-a-week undergraduate class in art appreciation, his (and later my) secretary Yolly trailing behind carrying his papers like an acolyte, the ceiling air conditioner whirring as my classmates and I sat quietly in our egg shell-colored Eames-style chairs inside the stark white, terrazzo-floored space, black and white uniformly box-framed etchings staring down upon us (the menacing “Madame Rejane” by Toulouse Lautrec is still the stuff of nightmares)—the perfect picture of obsequiousness to icy modernist style and a Eric’s cultivated “terror-teacher” persona.

(Photo from Ateneo Art Gallery FB Page)

But he was always kind to me, although he was quite terse at times, especially when he critiqued my writing, which he always followed with a Cheshire Cat grin. I felt a connection, because I understood his demand for excellence, and desire for order. And that kinship, which would later become a vote of confidence—recommending me to editors to begin writing about art, thence a scholarship to undertake graduate studies in preparation for museum directorship—has been a guiding light, a source of inspiration that I continue to take with me in my professional and entrepreneurial journey. That light, at once glaring and nurturing, shone from a distance.

We may have had our differences: I still remember how horrified he was on a visit to the gallery post-retirement when he saw me installing the works of young artists who were not even represented in the permanent collection side-by-side with the modern masters. Eric harrumphed then shot a “What is this?” as soon as he entered and, sans the usual niceties following a long absence, quickly walked past before I could even reply.

I also never got any feedback from him when I started the Ateneo Art Awards in 2004 (Truth be told, it was a surprise even to the University president and the Board of Trustees, who only got wind of it after the invitations had been sent out!) Nor did I hear a peep from him when I established Salcedo Auctions with my wife in 2010. Not that I even bothered to ask.

But that was ok. My resistance and his silence were what we were and, on hindsight, our relationship, or what became of it, is what I am most grateful for.

Eric’s strength of conviction—his critical opinion—formed a large part of who I am today. Pardon the maudlin statement, but I was never really able to personally express my gratitude for his mentorship and trust. I feel though that he would have very much preferred it this way, quickly exiting before anyone could even mutter a word, as he gruffly made his way into that brightly lit room of his muses, where he no longer needed to suffer fools.

Farewell, Eric, and rest in your knowing silence.

This is an expanded version of the homage written by the author for the 40th day Mass held online on Oct. 22, 2021 in honor of the late Prof. Emmanuel ‘Eric’ Torres, poet, art critic and former curator of the Ateneo Art Gallery (1960-2001)

The author, founder of the Ateneo Art Awards and two-time winner of the National Book Award for Art as editor and publisher, was curator and later director & chief curator of the Ateneo Art Gallery from 2001-2015. He is currently the chairman & chief specialist of Salcedo Auctions.