ENCINITAS — Brian Torch started this year in a funk that began two years earlier when the recession hit him personally as a marine life artist.
In a rare moment of hope last September, he submitted his portfolio to the distinguished Wyland Foundation Ocean Artist Society.
Founded in 2003, the Ocean Artist Society has had more than 20,000 artists submit their work for consideration for admission, with just over 200 members being inducted to date. Members are considered to be the world’s top aquatic photographers, filmmakers, painters and sculptors.
“I thought my chances were one in a million of actually getting inducted,” Torch recalled. “I put it out of my mind because I applied in September and I thought they would vote and make a determination by Jan. 1. That date came and went. and so did Jan. 30.
“Then on Feb. 28 at 10:30 p.m. I came home from a meeting at church and went to shut down my computer. I saw the subject line that read, ‘Aloha! Newest Member of the Ocean Artist Society.’ The word ‘surreal’ has been so overused but it truly fit.”
The email continued with the message: ‘We are proud to have you as a member of the club. People will be contacting you for a video.’
“Needless to say, my knees hit the ground,” he recalled.
Torch had trouble sleeping that night, thinking of ramifications the honor would have on his career as an artist and, more importantly, his ability to get his message out of protecting the oceans.
A member of North Coast Calvary Chapel, Torch credits members of the men’s organization, Band of Brothers, with sustaining him during difficult times. Through the group he met fellow member Michael Seewald, who in March extended an invitation to exhibit his paintings at the Michael Seewald Gallery in Del Mar Plaza.
The good news kept coming. On April 29, Torch was featured on Fox News. Lucky for him, State Sen. Marty Block (SD-39) was watching. Block was moved by Wendell, the playful seal created by Torch, and nominated Torch for the California Contemporary Artists Collection. Torch was subsequently selected as one of two San Diego artists, and of only 30 artists in the state, to have their art showcased in the State Capitol. Wendell has been on display since May 17 and will be there until September 2014.
“Brian Torch has produced a wonderful work of whimsy that reminds us all of the beauty of our oceans and its marine life,” said Senator Block. “Brian captures the great underwater world of our state and my district.”
Yet another invitation presented itself on May 7 when Torch was invited to make an appearance on KUSI.
Before becoming a marine life artist, Brian was a celebrated portrait artist whose subjects included Mohammed Ali and Don King. Ironically, it was Wyland who inspired Torch to become a marine life artist in the 1990s when Torch saw the Wyland Whaling Wall at the Long Beach Arena in the Long Beach Convention Center Complex. Now Torch, 63, has attracted the admiration of Wyland.
“Artists throughout the years have had significant impact when it comes to raising awareness about important issues,” Wyland said. “The Ocean Artist Society was created to bring that impact to a higher level in support of ocean conservation. Brian Torch’s art and his interest in promoting a sustainable future for our oceans really made him an ideal candidate for the Ocean Artist Society. Artists like Brian are the reason the society is making a difference.”
For more information, visit briantorchart.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Torch’s paintings can be viewed at Michael Seewald Galleries, Del Mar Plaza, 1555 Camino Del Mar, Suite 312.
Coastal residents traveling to Sacramento can view Wendell in the Maddy Lounge, off the Senate floor. Because the area is only for members, visitors should make arrangements first by calling Sen. Block’s office at (916) 651-4039.