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Puerto Rico painter Jose Torres Martino dies at 94

Jose Antonio Torres Martino, a Puerto Rican painter and writer who helped create and expand art and journalism institutions on the U.S. island, died Friday. He was 94.

Torres died at Pavia Hospital in San Juan after a prolonged illness, said Margarita Fernandez Zavala, a close friend and an art professor at the University of Puerto Rico in Bayamon. She said she wasn't sure about the specific illness.

Torres was born in 1916 in Puerto Rico's second largest city, Ponce, whose setting on the island's southern coast inspired one of his more famous abstract paintings.

His voice was well-known to Puerto Ricans from the 1940s through the 1980s, Fernandez said.

"He was one of the pioneers of radio and television on the island," she said. "He was a man of elegant words."

But Torres was a private man who did not seek the spotlight, she added.

"He was soft and sweet and tender," Fernandez said. "Everyone sought his opinion, something that he didn't necessarily like."

Torres grew up in Puerto Rico, then briefly studied design and painting at the Pratt Institute in New York before economic troubles forced him to return home, where he began to work as a radio journalist.

At age 22, he helped found the island's first magazine dedicated to radio journalism while he continued to paint in his free time.

Torres became a full-time painter in the mid-1940s and returned to New York, where he exhibited his work and resumed his studies. After traveling through Europe, he returned to Puerto Rico and helped found the School of Plastic Arts and the Center for Puerto Rican Art.

In 1951, he co-founded the Press and Television Guild and later served as its president. He also created the graphic arts workshop at the University of Puerto Rico and later became a columnist for the newspaper El Nuevo Dia.

Torres is survived by a son and two granddaughters.