If your answer is simply “myself” then there’s a good chance you haven’t met Torben Wilson. For about 20 years, the Oakland artist and owner of Neoterica Designs has been hand-crafting mirror art pieces. They are so beautifully unique that even the least vain person might be caught staring at the mirrors, eventually buying more than one.
After a conversation with the creator, it’s easy to see why people love his work. A self-proclaimed “mirror master,” Wilson talks about his pieces not just as reflective surfaces but transformative artwork that can be whatever you want them to be.
The Visibility Project: Before we talk about your art, introduce yourself to the people. What were your beginnings before Neoterica?
Torben Wilson: I am originally from North Carolina, from the Charlotte area. I went to college for fashion design. That’s where my manufacturing skills come from.
I came out to California in ‘97. I was a designer for a furniture company on the east coast and I was faxing my designs to their offices in Cali. So I came to Cali to see what they did and thought maybe that would influence my [future] designs for them. It was December of ‘97, and it was 80 degrees. I was in love with the weather. I was like “oh my lord, they got me.”
I went home for a few days, packed up, and I didn’t even see my parents. I called and told them I was going to California.
The ViP: So you were immediately sold.
TW: Literally. When I went to school, it was in the mountains and I was used to snow but I was tired of that. So I wanted to swing the other way.
That’s what got me to California, the weather and designing furniture. The furniture companies that I designed for, everything they did was glass. We sheeted, folded, molded…we did everything you want to do in glass. Things didn’t go quite how I wanted them to, so I kind of had to part ways.
I started temping because I needed to pay my bills. One day, a friend of mine came into my apartment, and saw one of my mirror art pieces. She said, “Would you make me one?” I was like, “sure” and made her one. It just snowballed after that. I wasn’t even going to make them anymore! I made her one, and then other people started wanting them. And it snowballed.
The ViP: What made you want to major in fashion design in the first place?
TW: I don’t specifically like fashion, but I do like style.
There’s a TV show that came on back in the day, a sitcom called Rags to Riches. It was a doctor who adopted 5 little girls and those little girls could sing, boy they could sing like the dickens.
Anyway, I digress…one episode, he went out of town on business. He had a huge, beautiful, nice mansion and just had one room redecorated. He told the girls “you guys can do anything you want to do in this house but just don’t touch this one room.” Then they panned into that one room, and it was mid-century modern. That’s my favorite time period. And I thought “oh my gosh, that’s what I want to do.”
And I collect that art to this day. That’s what got me started.
The ViP: So from there you caught the bug of wanting to create things that people want to see?
TW: Yeah. I love art work and I love making pretty things.
TW: The reason that I thought I was there was totally different from what they thought I was supposed to be doing there. It didn’t match up, so we just parted ways.
Also, it’s expensive building furniture [in California], so I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I saw some really cool stuff out there, so I wanted to do my thing and carve my own niche.
The ViP: I know leaving something that’s considered a stable career may seem like someone pulling the rug out from under you but there has to be something that makes you say “No. enough is enough. I’m doing my own thing.” What got you to that point? What lit your fire?
TW: Life pushed me out there. I didn’t have a choice. Luckily I had something to fall back on because I didn’t plan on doing this at all. But I had to make it work.
The ViP: Why mirrors?
TW: Nobody else is doing it. I like to give people something they haven’t seen before.
The ViP: On your website, another reason you say you like mirrors is because they let people be whoever they want to be. Explain what you mean by that.
TW: The mirror can be anything you want it to be. A lot of people use it for zen reasons, feng shui. A lot of people use it for vanity…a lot of people use it just to reflect the light. It’s just whatever you want them to be. And when you look at my mirrors you become the artwork.
The ViP: Is that what inspires your mirror designs…the people who buy your artwork?
TW: Yes. I pander a lot. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. I make what people ask me because I like giving people what they ask for.
But I also make what I see. I get inspired by things around me, whether it’s the economic times or the social times. I also love seeing other art, so sometimes I’m inspired by other art work. I love old art. I love the Black art of the 60s.
The ViP: Thinking about your business and your artwork five to 10 years from now, what do you see it doing for you or for other people?
TW: I love making people happy and I love producing beauty. I just want to give people things that they were seeking. I want to shock people, make them think.
As for me, I want to be successful. I don’t really care about fame because fame comes with a cost.
The ViP: Success means what for you?
TW: Doing well enough to get by and do what I need to do so that I’m okay. I just want to be successful at what I do. I want someone to walk past my artwork, stop, then back-pedal and have nothing but good things to say.
Stop and back-pedal is exactly what I did upon seeing some of Torben’s mirror art online. His pieces are funky, stylish, and unique. They are like nothing else, yet have a familiar vibe. After our conversation, I found that Torben is definitely a reflection of his artwork and his quest for transforming others into art started with transforming himself as an artist.
Torben’s artwork can be found and purchased on his website, NeotericaDesigns.com and you can follow him on Twitter, and Instagram to stay up to date on his latest designs and events! Send him a message on Facebook to dicuss your custom art piece, today.