Jorge Ignacio Torres: How a Rogue Hair Stylist and Art Pusher Kept His Palabra

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Photo credit: Abv Hvn

Jorge Ignacio Torres has always had an urge to express his creativity, but nothing really satisfies him more than stylin’ people’s heads. Then again, from what he says, making his salon/gallery a cultural hub could come close.

“The idea came about when I turned 30. I couldn’t keep talking about it – it had to be done. It was time to have my own thing. It was about having a welcoming place, but I wasn’t thinking of a hair salon. I was just going to put up art and that was it,” recalls Torres.

Palabra beats in la Phoenikera’s heart, in the middle of impatient streets, close to monstrous commercial and educational developments, rebel coffee houses, apartment complexes filled with millennials, speakeasy bars and banned play readings.

From 7th Street it could be missed if you’re a forastero, but if you call yourself a bandido, you’ve probably downed a few chelas at their gallery and experienced some dope art while gazing at a plethora of creative mischiefs. (If I were going to use a Three Amigos reference, I had to go all the way. Long live El Guapo!).

The  beat to Sweatshirt’s “Hive” escapes from a retro speaker found in a thrift store, and almost like a voiceover Jorge says: “I want to be an art pusher. The main purpose of Palabra is to become a place where people can collaborate on projects and create ways to support artists so they can stay in Phoenix and actually live off of their work.”

I say shieet, pass me some o’ dat multimedia kush.

Jorge, who had been involved in the arts community either by introducing bands to the local scene through his gig called Mexikatek Promotions or later on, showcasing local artists at the gallery Propaganda on Grand Avenue decided he would find a place to open his gallery.

He was the weird kid; he dressed different and listened to obscure bands when he moved to Phoenix from L.A., where he was brewed. Like others, he would seek alternative music acts in the Valley only to face the fact that Maná, Jaguares, El Tri and other bands were taking advantage of people’s nationalistic nostalgia and leaving little room for other emerging acts.

“That’s when I encountered The Modified Arts; they had a good music calendar and listed bands that I liked. I went and loved it. At the time I lived in Litchfield Park which was really far from downtown, but I would take the Green Line bus at Thomas Road and travel an hour each way come to see new bands.”

Music is vital for Jorge. Throughout the interview (and also during our stylin’ sessions and all day every day), a ripping playlist takes you through all ranges of emotion, from King Krule, to Earl, pasando por James Blake, Beach House, ZZK, Celso, Cults, Chicano Batman o Foxygen, just to name a few.

He saw an opportunity and created Mexikatek Promotions, bringing Babasónicos, Enjambre, Kinky, Pastilla, Nortec, 60 Tigres and Bosque Discoteca, among others.

But Phoenix wasn’t prepared: bringing alternative acts like those wasn’t profitable, and eventually he dropped it. Then, Propaganda came along, a gallery to showcase non-exploitative Latino art. The lease for the gallery was soon cancelled due to extreme partying. I asked how much partying; he said he’d prefer not to answer.

For a while after, he worked the bread route delivering empty carbs to grocery stores Valley wide. He wasn’t doing much of anything really until Tad Caldwell, owner of Hair Pollution (his stylist and eventually mentor/boss), in a very inception-esque way asked if he’d ever consider becoming a hair sensei.

The idea grew on him and he went to school, later becoming one of the most sought out stylists at Hair Pollution where he worked for 6 years until last November, when he decided it was time to go.

“That job prepared me for what I’m doing now,” dice Jorge con el pecho hinchao. “I’ve always wanted to express my creativity, I started with music but it wasn’t working out. Stylin’ and cutting people’s hair has consistently given me satisfaction. I like everything about it: how you have to study every client’s personality, what their hair can or can’t do, if a cut fits their lifestyle, figure out what you are going to do to make them look good, so many variables,” he explains.

He looked for a space for about a year and found it in February of 2012. For months he would go to work and after to this “hub-to-be” to repair it and bring it up to city codes; all his money and contributions from family and friends were allocated to Palabra.

In March of this year, without the help of loans, subsidies or grants, all thanks to hard work, sacrifice and the help from the community, Palabra opened.

“I didn’t want the overhead or the commitment of making payments. But you can’t do it on your own, you have to surround yourself with people that you trust and know will help you, reach out to other small businesses.”

Palabra is booming; more clients are being added to the list, two other stylists (Priscilla and Megan) work with Jorge, he also collaborates with 8 rotating artists that exhibit regularly at his space.

Also, he plans to expand the business to a music venue, maybe a restaurant and later on an academy to develop new stylists; but he realizes that these are long-term goals. And it would probably be a good idea to keep away from becoming the Heisenberg of stylin’. (“Corrido” by Los Cuates anyone?)

But beyond los sueños guajiros y que estoy seguro se cumplirán, Jorge addresses the need for more cohesiveness within the arts community. There are clear ways, according to Jorge, how the local scene could prosper and unify.

“We need to reach out, get out of our comfort zone, cross-pollinate ideas, support local businesses, attend as many events possible, don’t let egos interfere with creativity and above all, don’t underestimate the talent that blooms in our streets.”

Julio Cortázar said once: “Sin la palabra no habría historia y tampoco habría amor.” In la Phoenikera’s art scene, there is plenty of both.