By Brando Fontaine
When Brian Torch was serving in the U.S. Army in Viet Nam in the Long Binh Providence, he had no idea that the experience would put him on the path to becoming the world-class artist he is today. Brian returned from Viet Nam with a case of PTSD that went undiagnosed at the time and developed into serious mood swings leading to anger, depression and despair.
The root cause was something shared by many of the veterans returning from their deployments in that era. Trained to kill and sent to Viet Nan for a 10- to 13-month tour, if you made it through that unscathed you were sent home.
For most of these soldiers, they were put on a plane and flown to Oakland and de-processed over 24 hours. From there, they were on their own to find a way back to their hometowns.
While happy to be home, being back in America was a stark contrast to poverty in Viet Nam. From the naked kids playing in the streets from lack of clothing to the atrocities that happened while on patrol in the hot sweaty jungle, everything was different.
The treatment these Vets received after returning home only served to create a wider emotional divide; happy to be home and having a cold beer with old friends, the next thing you know someone a couple of barstools overhears your conversation and starts calling you a baby killer. You apply for work and can’t find a job, then another Vet tells you not to put ‘Viet Nam Veteran’ on the job application, you don’t and bang, you get the next job you applied for.
At night, you wake up in cold sweat from the horrors that invade your dreams. As your breathing slows and reality takes hold, your thoughts drift to your buddies that you left behind, the ones that are still over there. Your concern for them grows until it escalates to guilt for being home while they are still there.
Brian found the best method for him cope with his personal issues was to express himself through art. For some unknown reason he felt compelled to begin sketching drawings and six months later to start painting. It was at that point Brian entered college on his G.I. Bill benefits and earned his degree majoring in Fine Arts. While attending college, he became fascinated with various forms of artistic mediums but his main focus was in Contemporary Art and Portrait painting.
At first he painted for his own personal enjoyment. After a couple of years his friends came to admire his work and started asking him to create pieces for them. “The first painting I did for a friend was of his 73 Impala convertible. After that one I painted a sailboat from some photographs. Then I was asked to do a P-51 that one of my friends father flew in WW II,” Torch recalls.
As his thirst for creating art grew, Brian would lose all track of time while he was painting. When working, he became distracted from the pain of life. He found a grounded, an almost spiritual feeling, the inner peace he hadn’t known since before his deployment to Viet Nam. This allowed him to overcome his anger and depression and cope with the PTSD issues. Brian has never created any art from the images that have been burned in his mind from serving overseas.
Over the years, Brian has been commissioned by several famous celebrities for his portraits, including Mohammed Ali and Don King. On one eventful day, Brian viewed an exhibit of Marine Life by the world-renowned artist Wyland. This made a major impact on him and he added Marine Life Art alongside his other mediums and has since become recognized as a premier artist in that field.
Earlier this year, Brian was honored to be inducted into the prestigious Wyland Foundations Ocean Artist Society. Wyland says of Brian’s work. “Artists throughout the years have had significant impact when it comes to raising awareness about important issues. 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.” Founded in 2003, the Ocean Artist Society members are considered to be the world’s top aquatic photographers, filmmakers, painters, and sculptors. The OAS has inducted just over 200 members to date.
In May of this year, Torch was nominated by California State Senator Marty Block and selected by the California State Senate to be one of only 30 artists in the state to have their art showcased in the California State Capital for the California Contemporary Artists Collection. For this exhibit, Brian created a special painting of a playful seal he has named Wendell. “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 Marty Block (SD-39). “Brian captures the great underwater world of our state and my district.” Wendell will be on display for the next 18 months until September 2014.
Brian’s story serves as a reminder that the baggage of war one brings home can be overcome with faith and patience, and that the highest pinnacle of a dream can be achieved.
The current catalog of his Marine Life Art and Celebrity Portraits and where they are currently on display can be found on his web site at www.briantorchart.com.