One of the grandest possible aspirations for an artist became real for Atlanta artist Julie Torres whose work was acquired by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is among the world’s most famous museums. Beginning in July of this year, the Metropolitan began displaying her screenprint portrait of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; a work entitled “Super Diva!” The artist joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to express her thrill at the acquisition, and her admiration for the late Justice who inspired so much art.
The call from the Met felt to Torres like something out of a fantasy. “I think I did drop the phone, just about literally,” she said. But it wasn’t completely out of nowhere; New York art collectors had caught wind of her social media presence. “I was making my work here in Atlanta and sharing the images on Instagram,” Torres said. “With the ‘Super Diva!’ the piece, a collector who lives in New York, she bought one of the ‘Super Diva!’ prints … just from seeing it on Instagram. And through family friends, someone close in the family who had worked at the Met for many years, she shared that work with them, and that’s how the dream, for me, came true.”
The piece itself is a traditional screenprint, and one of many produced by Torres in tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “For that piece, I chose to have a palette of primarily pinks and purples. It features Justice Ginsburg. I believe it was one of her official judicial portraits for the Supreme Court,” Torres said. “I changed it substantially with the colors and added some pattern, and then in the background, there are different quotes of hers; some from opinions, some from speeches that she gave.”
Torres has created numerous representations of the groundbreaking feminist legislator, honoring her accomplishments and quoting her opinions and arguments. The many portraits began as a response to Ginsburg’s passing, which will be one year ago this September 18. But “Super Diva!” in particular, speaks to a lighter, more ebullient side of Ginsburg.
“I saw a picture, I think it was in an interview with her personal trainer,” Torres said. “I saw this picture of her wearing a shirt that said ‘Super Diva,’ and it just made me laugh, and then I read the article … Here is this lady in her eighties, and she’s writing these brilliant opinions, and then she also is known for being able to do full planks on the floor. She just amazes me in every way.”
The piece acquired by the Met is one of the smaller iterations of her series of Ginsburg portraits, and it shares with them a special technique devised by the artists to make her screenprints stand out. She described how she “weaves” her portraits, saying, “I print on Japanese paper. It’s kind of a thin, delicate paper, and I end up cutting that paper up into small strips and then weaving it all together to then make these woven pieces. So I’m using the techniques of screenprinting to make more of a unique piece of work.”
The striking style sets her apart in a commonly less-acclaimed medium. “One of the things I recognized and that can be a challenge with printmaking is the perception that works on paper are not as valuable as, let’s say, a painting or a sculpture,” Torres said.
Torres also recently exhibited works in a local group show called “Love Always Wins” at the Maune Contemporary, showing her woven print portraits of Ginsberg, Maya Angelou and Dolly Parton, among others. An edition of Torres’ Ginsberg portrait ‘Super Diva!’ currently resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its exhibition “Selections from the Department of Drawings and Prints: Revolution, Resistance, and Activism,” on view until January 17, 2022.