Jorge Ignacio Torres: 2015 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Visual Art

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You submitted nominations for the best and brightest emerging Valley creatives, and the results are in. Presenting the 2015 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the announcement of winners at Artopia on May 9, Jackalope Ranch, Chow Bella, and Up on the Sun will introduce the finalists. Up today is Jorge Ignacio Torres.

"I never want art to be an accessory."

Jorge Ignacio Torres stands in his well-lit downtown Phoenix workspace hovering intently over a young man with a pair of fine scissors. In the background, you can hear friends chatting on the turquoise couch in the middle of the room and the sound of rush-hour traffic filling the streets outside.

See also: Announcing the 2015 Big Brain Finalists

Torres takes a few calculated snips here and there from his client's hair, steps back, reassesses, and repeats. It's this exact type of patient perfectionism that has made Torres not only a successful stylist, but also a who's who in the downtown Phoenix art scene.

Since founding Palabra, his aptly named "hair. art. collective," in 2012, Torres gradually has built a reputation for realizing real talent just as, if not before, artists make it big in the Valley. His arsenal of featured artists has included Rebecca Green, Ashley Marcias, Jeff Slim, Jonni Cheatwood, Joseph "Sentrock" Perez, and the most recently exhibited Bill "DadSocks" Taggart.

A salon in both senses of the word, Palabra is helping downtown creatives refresh their look and their opinions of the Phoenix art scene. Here, art isn't just something that happens on the side. It's a coexisting force that fuels Torres' business and his vision for downtown Phoenix. "For me, it's coming together as a community without any sort of egos or money."

Therefore, Torres looks for like-minded creatives who keep craft at their core. "I want artists that are serious about being artists -- not doing shit on the side, like it's a hobby," says Torres.

He tries to avoid artists who have made the rounds at other galleries downtown, turning to friends, word of mouth, and even social media to scout new and emerging talent. Once Torres finds an artist, he more or less hands over creative control.

But come the eve of a show, he'll stay until the wee hours making sure it's displayed just right, that it "makes sense."

"You have to be hard on yourself as an owner," he says. "I think that's why I set my expectations so high with everyone I bring along. It's important that everyone respects the space."

And respect it they do. The minimalist beauty shop that doubles as a full-fledged art gallery gets its fair share of foot traffic for opening receptions and First Friday gatherings. But despite the increased attention and the accolades, Torres can hardly say he's made it.

"I think that's what makes Palabra and sets it apart. I don't just sit around and bask in what we've been able to accomplish. It's always, 'What can we do next? How can I make this show better?'"

He stands back and lets a client examine his finished work in the mirror. Each strategic trim has fallen perfectly into place to reveal what his satisfied client describes as a "neo-midcentury combover."

Torres gives a subtle smile. As much as he may split hairs, so to speak, he's all about the big picture.

The 2015 Big Brain Award winners will be announced on Saturday, May 9, during New Times' Artopia, an evening of food, drink, art, and music at Monarch Theatre. For details and tickets, $25, visit www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.

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