Tico Torres's mother will tell you he has always been good with his hands. As a youngster, given a block of clay, he produced an impressive sculpture of a caveman's head. "He looked at a picture in an encyclopedia," his mother, Emma Torres, recalls. "He didn't have any tools. It was a beautiful, beautiful job."
Torres, 45, later used those hands to pound out the beat for the rock band Bon Jovi—but he never abandoned art. "I used to paint and give them as gifts to people," he says. Torres's wife, model Eva Herzigova (they are now divorcing), encouraged him to take his art more seriously; now his large, figurative studies, noted for their bold use of color, sell for thousands of dollars in galleries around the world and hang in the homes of the rich (Ronald Perelman) and famous (Bono). "It's really beautiful work," says Donald Trump, who owns a 12-foot-high mural of a couple dancing.
Trump will soon be able to expand his collection—for a good cause. Torres's latest project is creating life casts of the grips of golf and tennis stars to benefit charities, including the AIDS Resource Foundation for Children. The rocker has spent some $200,000 of his own money in an effort to get Jack Nicklaus, Billie Jean King and other athletes to stick their hands in a bucket of muck for three minutes, their fingers wrapped around the handle of a sawed-off golf club or tennis racket. The finely detailed plaster casts will be sculpted in limited runs and sold at prices from $400 for a resin cast of Chris Evert's hands to $110,000 for a specially ordered, 14-karat-gold image of Arnold Palmer's. "Palmer probably has the most unique grip of all the golfers," says Torres.
"With his 18 handicap, Torres is unlikely to cast his own golf grip; pal Willie Nelson taught him the game 12 years ago with a characteristically casual approach. Recalls Torres: "I hit a ball, and it goes in front of a tree, and I asked, 'What do I do now?' Willie said, 'Move it.' I said, 'I think this is a pretty good game.' "
A Manhattan native, Torres was born a long way from the links. His Cuban immigrant parents—Hector, a dockworker, and Emma, a purchasing agent—frequently took the boy to their homeland before the 1958 revolution. "I can still smell my grandfather's aftershave when he would take me on the back of a donkey," says Torres. The family moved to New Jersey when he was 9; a year later, Hector left. (Emma later married Leonard Sklair, a businessman.) Torres did not see his dad again until seven years ago, in a meeting arranged by a distant relative. "We met, talked, smoked cigars, cried," the drummer says softly. "Whatever he had done was done."
As a kid, Torres took to music early—banging along on a toy piano during The Liberace Show on TV. "I thought he was king," he says. He outgrew Liberace but not the beat—buying his first real drum set at age 14. After high school he worked his way up from club dates to gigs with Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and Cher, earning a reputation that led to a meeting with fellow New Jersey musician Jon Bon Jovi in 1982. Torres, who lives in a three-bedroom split ranch home and studio in rural Colts Neck, N.J., and also owns a three-bedroom house in West Palm Beach, Fla., remembers well the day he got serious about art—Thanksgiving, 1993. Driving home from a friend's house, "I was thinking I needed another creative outlet. That's when I saw an art shop. Of course it was closed, but I was there the next day." In no time he began to paint like a possessed man. But he kept the finished products in his basement for months before working up the courage to show them to his bandmates. When he finally did, "we were freaked out," remembers guitarist Richie Sambora. "We never knew he had this talent." Torres soon took his art on the road. "He was always sketching on the plane, in the hotel room, on the bus," says Sambora, who, with his wife, Heather Locklear
, owns several of Torres's pieces.
Torres met Herzigova, 25, at Sting's April 1994 rainforest concert in New York City. They married two years later. "She was my muse," he says. "She pushed me." Torres said that careers drove the couple apart. "We both traveled too much. It was hard to make it work when we only saw each other once every two weeks."
Now the woman in his life is his mother, who is blind from a degenerative eye disease. "I see in my mind what he does," she says. And with her hands: Torres once brought her a bronze casting of Arnold Palmer's grip. "She was able to touch it, and she smiled," he says. "She's my biggest fan."
Grace Lim in West Palm Beach