ARTIST TALK: MICHAEL TORQUATO DENICOLA ON BEING A SURFER ARTIST

In the Studio

Michael Torquato deNicola is an artist and surfer. Born and raised in Southern California, he draws inspiration from the ocean and the beauty of nature. His collage style allows him to combine a plethora of meanings and references, fascinating the viewer with the color palette, shapes, and visual rhythms.

Fine Art Shippers spoke with Michael Torquato deNicola about his journey as an artist, the way he feels about the world, and his extensive travels. 

​​You grew up in Los Angeles and, as you say, have been influenced a lot by the ocean and nature. What role did the ocean play in you becoming an artist? 

Michael Torquato deNicola: I was introduced to swimming in the ocean because I was asthmatic and my parents wanted to strengthen my lungs. So it was first about my health and well-being, but it also had a great impact on my personality. The natural environment is unpredictable. To be a surfer, you have to be alert and able to react to and anticipate natural events. 

The sensitivity and responsiveness to the environment that I developed as a surfer is part of being an artist. Because art is about feeling the world around you and trying to convey that emotional state through the artifacts you create.

How do you feel about the ocean? What kind of connection is that?

The Ocean is alive and always changing with the winds, swells, and tides. The act of surfing is a collaboration with this natural and dynamic environment. It teaches us to be present in the moment so we can adapt, predict, and play with the waves. The Ocean itself teaches us lots of lessons. It can reward us with a great wave to ride and humble us with its tremendous power. At the end of the day, the Ocean and Mother Nature are far greater than any of us. They are a life force of our planet, and we all need to be mindful to protect our natural environment and do our best to keep it healthy, alive, and thriving.

How did you start making art? What motivated you?

Growing up, I was always painting and doodling. My father was an avid photographer and I loved watching him develop film in the darkroom. My grandmother, who was a teacher and also worked for the Getty Museum, often took me to museums. From a young age, I was surrounded by art and had the opportunity to see artists from all over the world and admire different techniques and styles.

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Which artists and movements have influenced you most? 

I have many influences from a wide variety of artists and movements. As a child and young adult, I was fascinated by Joan Miro’s surrealist painting, his use of unique characters, and the way he created dreamlike worlds in which they lived.

Peter Beard is my inspiration in mixed media and collage. I had seen some of his work and then met him after I had been doing my own collage work for quite some time. He showed me some of his large works and sketchbooks. The rawness and precision and combinations of materials were so beautiful.

Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionist paintings always inspire awe in me and give me a true sense of connection and wonder.

Street art has also influenced me greatly. It accompanies me in my daily life. It’s on the streets around my studio in downtown Los Angeles and around the beaches I surf all around Southern California. I also use many street art materials in my practice. 

Shephard Fairey is one of the great street artists I admire. I love the concept of phenomenology and the repetition of an icon or logo. His techniques, execution, and repetition of imagery are amazing.

The godfather of West Coast graffiti, Chaz Boroquez, is my inspiration in this genre. And I find it interesting that a Japanese teacher at the Chouinard Art Institute influenced him significantly with the fluid brushstroke with watered pigments.

Please tell us about the Torquato character that appears in your works. What does he represent? What is the story behind him?

Torquato is my middle name. It comes from my paternal grandfather, who is from Italy. Growing up, I had never heard of anyone with that name, and I was a little embarrassed. I tried to look it up and could not find a definition or background for it. It seemed strange to me and I did not want other kids to make fun of me, so I called myself Michael T. deNicola. 

Much later, when we started creating websites for our art, the domains like Mikedenicola.com and MikedeNicolaart.com were already taken by other people. It was around that time that I began signing my work with my middle name Torquato to distinguish myself. And naturally, I used that name for my website as well: IamTorquato.com. 

At that time I had made a surfing game called Five X, sponsored by Red Bull. I created the game itself and all the artwork to support and activate the 5X game out in the world. All the marketing and promotional materials, the animations on TV, etc. were based on my collages and stencils on which I placed the Red Bull logo, two bulls going head-to-head. I also invented Torquato, a character that animates one of the bulls and brings it to life. However, Red Bull did not like me playing around with their logo, so I put the character aside. 

But there was something about it that I loved. So over time, I started writing a backstory for the character and incorporating him into my paintings and other artwork. I gave him my middle name and created a definition for the Torquato character:  Born of water and stoke, Torquato is the Action – Hero inside each of us who says, “Yes You Can!” This goes all the way back to 2005.

​​Besides Red Bull, you have collaborated with Marie Claire and the Olson Company. What kind of work was that? 

I met the fashion editor of Marie Claire at an art show in New York. Their team was heading to Paris for the couture shows. They came to my studio after the shows and told me about their experiences and the trends they had seen. They asked me if I had any ideas, and I wrote a little story and sent it to them as a sketch. A few weeks later, they called me and said they were shooting my idea in Iceland. They sent me a ticket, and I joined them there. The team they assembled was great. We got great images that were well received. 

A year later, they called me again and asked if I had any more ideas. I had just returned from the Galapagos Islands and showed them pictures. They put together the same team as the year before, and we went back to the Galapagos and Ecuador for another shoot. It was an incredible collaboration.

As for the Olson company, it all started in the late ’90s when my parents submitted some of my artwork to the Surf City USA art festival. It was accepted and won first prize for mixed media. At that show, I met the owner of the Olson Company, whose home building business was booming. I had been making a lot of artwork but not showing it. He bought a couple of small works and asked me if I had more, as he was moving to a large facility to keep up with his company’s growth.

I rented a truck and put together a personal show of about fifty works for him in the new space. He was thrilled and purchased more artwork. As their business expanded to San Francisco, San Diego, and Ventura, I became their official artist. My work filled their interior spaces to promote a creative and positive work environment at each of their locations.

You have traveled extensively, including to hard-to-reach and exotic places. In what ways do your travels feed your art?

I find the people and cultures, their traditions,  architecture, surroundings, and the natural color palette of the seasons and landscapes fascinating and inspiring. These things intrigue and interest me very much, and I’m very grateful for these experiences. My work is often like a journal where I’m trying to capture the essence of these experiences and inspirations, first out of gratitude for them and later to share them with others.

What natural environments have impressed you the most and why? 

Oh, there’s been so many. The first thing that comes to mind is the Galapagos Islands, where nature is preserved and alive. You can see turtles, stingrays, and sharks, and play with sea lion cubs in the water. When you experience this for the first time, you realize how fragile nature is and how important it is to preserve each element to keep it in balance. 

Thus, I have traveled to some remote parts of Indonesia where the natural environment is completely destroyed. If you walk on a deserted island, you will see vast amounts of plastic waste accumulated in the sea because of the winds and currents. You can see our impact on the environment, and it’s terrifying.

How would you like viewers to feel about your art?

I think the best-case scenario is feeling inspired, curious, hopeful, engaged, and empowered to be the best version of themselves. I want people to feel good and hopeful.


Originally written and posted on: Fine Art Shippers. See the original post here

Surf Meets Art: Malibu Mag

A GLIMPSE INTO THE VIBRANT WORLD OF AWARD-WINNING SURFER TURNED ARTIST MIKE ‘TORQUATO’ DENICOLA.

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By the age of 19, Mike ‘Torquato’ DeNicola was already surfing for the US team. Later on in his life, the surfer-turned-artist would have his work appear in Marie Claire, FOX, NBC, and Fuel TV. But it all started seven years earlier, in his hometown of Orange County when Torquato first fell in love with the sport of surfing. His passion soon turned competitive leading him to become High School League Champion and then later State Collegiate Champion. After graduating college, it was a no-brainer for the surf enthusiast to go pro.

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“I was competing with the US National Team at the time and winning on that level as well. I turned pro after college and did the US Pro Tour and traveled internationally through the 90s,” he said.

As the first pro surfer from the US team to graduate from college, Torquato was able to learn how to balance his athletic pursuits with his increasing desire for creative expression. While Torquato has always designed the artwork on his boards, it wasn’t until he started competing internationally that his work developed into the unique style he is known for today. His boards tell the story of his relationship with oceans from all around the globe. His large, colorful mixed media pieces resonate the same fluidity found in his surf style through a layered collage of rhythms, patterns, and forms.

I“I describe myself as a ‘modern primitive artist,'” Torquato said. “My work is based on observations and reflections of nature. It’s often colorful and rhythmic, I often think of my work as visual poetry. Over the years my life experience and techniques have developed, as well as my eye and the processes with which I use to create the work. It’s an ongoing exploration and pursuit to create work that inspires and motivates the viewer, as well as myself, towards something greater.”

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As an artist, Torquato has had quite a successful career already. Some of his favorite ventures have come from working with Marie Claire, The Olson Company and creating and producing Red Bull’s ‘5X’ series. Aside from that, the artist and filmmaker also produced the award-winning surf documentary, The Westsiders and most recently the feature film Chapter and Verse which was released in early 2017. His visual artwork has appeared in countless galleries, art fairs, film festivals and TV screens around the world over the past 20 years.

Even as a busy and successful artist, Mike’s passion for surfing is still very much present in his life today.

“I’m now a 50-year-old surfer, and I love to surf,” he said. “It’s in my blood, and along with my art, it’s what makes me tick. I’m still learning and growing, and it keeps my spirit young, curious, excited and engaged. It helps to balance my life, my work, my health, my priorities. This is what surfing is to me.” MM

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Michael Torquato DeNicola: Oceans

A new Film by Eric Minh Swenson.

Michael Torquato deNicola is a world traveling and award winning surfer, artist and filmmaker.

Mike grew up making sense of the world through surfing and art. Born and raised in Southern California, he is a lifelong surfer with much of his inspiration coming from the Ocean and his experiences around the globe in locations such as Indonesia, Iceland, Samoa, Peru, The Galapagos Islands and more.

Mike started surfing at the age of 12 and was competing with the US team by age 19. As the first pro surfer from the US team to graduate from College, he learned to negotiate between his athletic and creative pursuits and the business of surf.

Mike has always designed the work on his surfboards, but it was only when he started traveling and competing internationally that his work developed into the style it is today. Mike’s boards tell the story of his relationship with the Oceans from around the globe. If Mike’s surf style can be called fluid his large and colorful mixed media pieces resonate the same fluidity in a layered collage of rhythms, patterns, and forms.

Some of his favorite ventures have come from working with Marie Claire, The Olson Company and creating and producing Red Bull’s ‘5X’ series, seen on FOX, NBC and Fuel TV which feature a new format of competitive surfing. Mike produced and art directed the award-winning documentary ‘The Westsiders’ and most recently the feature film ‘Chapter and Verse’ to be released early 2017.

Mikes visual works have appeared in galleries, art fairs, film festivals and  TV screens around the world over the past 20 years.

For more info on Eric Minh Swenson visit his website at thuvanarts.com. His art films can be seen at thuvanarts.com/take1

Instagram : @ericminhswenson

Eric Minh Swenson also covers the international art scene and his writings and photo essays can be seen at Huffington Post Arts: http://m.huffpost.com/us/author/eric-…

When Tracks and Wakes Cross.

A Quiet Lunch Interview with So-Cal Artist Michael Torquato de Nicola.

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When Wakes and Trakes Meet

Michael Torquato de Nicola’s art is an direct result of his examinatorial affinity to his life as surfer and the interconnectedness to the natural world such life-style fosters and the two (his art and surf life) combine the best of Henry David Thoreau’s naturalistic, eco-friendly, observer/participant approach to the natural world with Walt Whitman’s humanist and transcendentalist mindset believing nature and man are inherently good and the search –or the inner longing– for a deeper, more intense spiritual meaning to it all is what makes any journey worth traveling far and wide.

Read the rest of the article over on QUITE LUNCH.

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Malibu Magazine, Fashion Meets Fitness

QN SPORT’S LATEST COLLABORATION WITH TORQUATO MERGES THE SPORTSWEAR PURVEYOR’S CHIC AESTHETIC AND WEARABLE FABRICS WITH THE CELEBRATED L.A. ARTIST’S STREET ART EDGE. WORKING OUT NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD.


Long sleeve cashmere crewneck shirt ($130), high-rise liquid leggings in navy ($96), racerback rib dress ($268)

Long sleeve cashmere crewneck shirt ($130), high-rise liquid leggings in navy ($96), racerback rib dress ($268)

Left: Reef leggings Nicaragua ($125), one-of-a-kind long sleeve Moss shirt ($295) Right: Jersey racerback white tank ($255), liquid side pocket legging ($299)

Left: Reef leggings Nicaragua ($125), one-of-a-kind long sleeve Moss shirt ($295) Right: Jersey racerback white tank ($255), liquid side pocket legging ($299)

Long sleeve cashmere crewneck shirt ($130), high-rise liquid leggings in navy ($96), racerback rib dress ($268), Lux Infinity scarf ($50), Black Chester Wallace bag ($250), Torquato skateboard ($450)

Long sleeve cashmere crewneck shirt ($130), high-rise liquid leggings in navy ($96), racerback rib dress ($268), Lux Infinity scarf ($50), Black Chester Wallace bag ($250), Torquato skateboard ($450)

Jersey racerback white tank ($255), liquid side pocket legging ($299)

Jersey racerback white tank ($255), liquid side pocket legging ($299)

White muscle T-shirt ($269), Sumatra Reef leggings ($125), Torquato surfboard ($7,500)

White muscle T-shirt ($269), Sumatra Reef leggings ($125), Torquato surfboard ($7,500)

White muscle T-shirt ($269), Sumatra Reef leggings ($125), Torquato surfboard ($7,500)

White muscle T-shirt ($269), Sumatra Reef leggings ($125), Torquato surfboard ($7,500)

Jersey racerback white tank ($255), liquid side pocket legging ($299)

Jersey racerback white tank ($255), liquid side pocket legging ($299)

Chester Wallace canvas tote ($350), White muscle T-shirt ($269), Sumatra Reef leggings ($125)

Chester Wallace canvas tote ($350), White muscle T-shirt ($269), Sumatra Reef leggings ($125)

Rolling Waves to Rolling Trains

B&B&Co Gallery present:

‘Rolling Waves to Rolling Trains’
Paintings by Michael Torquato deNicola

December 4th – December 11th

Opening Reception
Sunday, December 4th 2-6PM

V.I.P. preview
Brunch 12-2PM

Artist talk and closing
Sunday, December 11th
2-5PM

B&B&Co Gallery 516E 4th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013

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This show reflects the outstanding transformation of expressionism style of an artist with a long history of nature bond paintings.
‘Rolling Waves to Rolling Trains’ is a collection of works created in the disparity of these environments and combined for this show with the hope of revealing a greater connection to the natural world and its possibilities.
In the summer of 2015, Torquato relocated his studio from Pacific Palisades to DTLA and this change of environment marks a significant shift in his work.

The vast horizon of the Pacific Ocean has been replaced by the hi-rise downtown urban sprawl. The songs of the local west-side parrots have been replaced by the hum of the nearby cement factory. The empty morning beaches have been replaced by the growing homeless encampments. The sounds of rolling waves have been replaced by the sounds of rolling trains.

Says Torquato, “These differences aren’t to be judged. They are only to be observed, digested and then expressed through my work.”

Michael Torquato deNicola describes himself as a ‘Primitive Modern Artist.’ His work reflects the rhythms, patterns and cycles of nature with nature, in the broadest sense, referring to the science and phenomena of the natural, physical, material world.

Born and raised in Southern California, Torquato is a life long surfer with much of his influence coming from his connection to the Ocean and his experiences around the globe in locations such as Indonesia, Iceland, Samoa, Peru, The Galapagos Islands and more.
Torquato’s visual works have appeared in galleries, art fairs, print, film festivals and TV screens around the world over the past 20 years.

The Outsider —
 

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Ex-pro surfer and abstract artist Michael de Nicola connects through his canvases

Story — Imani Lanier

Images — Michael Miller

denicolaDaybreak. Dawn patrol. Solo session. The sea air is clean and crisp. The morning sun slowly rises, warming the frosty coastline. A clutch of sea gulls glides by, swooping and fishing just beyond a massive kelp bed. A solitary surfer bobs like a single buoy, alone with his innermost thoughts. For most, it gets pretty lonely in the frigid water waiting for the first set of the day to roll in and ride.

Not so for lifelong surfer and artist Michael de Nicola, who calls the ocean his home. But then, he has always felt more at ease in the early morning surf lineup than navigating the day-to-day hustle and bustle of life on land.

Like most surfers, he’s never lived far from the sea. Every since he was a little kid growing up in Orange County paddling out at the tender age of 12 at notable local breaks like San Onofre, Trestles and Salt Creek, de Nicola has fueled his dual passions of surfing and creating art. They’ve been a pure, potent way for him to express himself without speaking. It’s how he connects and communicates.

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“When I was a kid, I had lots of energy so I was always painting, drawing and crafting as well as surfing every day,” opines de Nicola, kicking back with his black lab Mango and peering out the living room of his cozy Pacific Palisades home at the endless ocean waves rolling in. “And, simultaneously, both of these interests have built over the years and intertwined. Nowadays, they’ve become one in the same where I wrap and paint all my surfboards. They’re all artwork. So, for me, it’s really been about trying to explore and learn as much about life as I can. And letting it flow out of me.”

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denicola_14As he recalls it, he and his dad learned to stand up at the same time, and many of his early surfing memories involve the father-son duo. “Once, we were driving down to San Onofre on a really crappy day and the waves were super small. On the way, I watched this guy riding a wave and I was like, ‘Stop the car.’ He was riding a longboard and just had this style and grace and I was mesmerized. ‘That’s brilliant. That’s beautiful. That guy’s radical.’ It was Matt Young and he was out doing his thing. And inherently, I was mesmerized and knew that that’s what I wanted. ‘He’s got style. He’s got flow. All right, that’s where I’m headed. I want to do that too.’”

And so he did, committing himself to mastering surfing and spending the next few years developing his killer, fluid style. At 19 years old, after graduating from Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, he joined the US surf team, and he eventually became the first pro surfer ever to graduate from college at the University of San Diego. Yet, even as he traveled around with talented fellow pros like Rob Machado and racked up surf trophy after surf trophy, he always felt like a bit of an outsider. Perhaps it was because he was a few years older. Or perhaps he had a hard time relating. Whatever the reason, he felt he didn’t fit in, so he continued to find comfort and solace in his art.

denicola_3Today is no exception. One look at his abstract expressionist artwork (channeling greats like Pollock and Rauschenberg), whether his chosen medium is cracked, broken surfboards, reclaimed-glass windowpanes, canvas, resin, wood, or simply paper, you can see that there’s an underlying structure to it. At the same time, there’s also a movement, a colorful, kinetic adaptation to the layered crescendo of furious brushstrokes. There’s an ebb and flow to his self-expression, just as there is in surfing.

“There are two kinds of surfers,” he explains. “There’s the kind who’ll look at a wave and visualize what they want to do. It’s a blank canvas for their tricks. On the other hand, there’s the other kind who’ll read the wave and adapt to it. And so, I think that being progressive at different times means that I want to achieve both. I want to flow with it but I also aspire to be creative and do my own thing.”

For him, it’s all about having an open mind and going with the flow, wherever inspiration may lead. “If I go surfing and have any preconceived notions of what I wanted in the water or try too hard to make things happen, it doesn’t work. If I go out and give into it, the ocean will come alive and we’ll play. And, if we’re playing, then magic can happen and I’m inspired. So I liken my creative artistic process to that.”

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While he was surfing professionally and collaborating with top brands like Quiksilver, O’Neill and Spyder, de Nicola did plenty of traveling to exotic locales like Indonesia, Fiji, Samoa, The Galapagos, Iceland and Australia as well as throughout Europe. In addition to the amazing surf conditions, these nomadic trips have all influenced his artwork in the form of gathered sand, shells, and wood. But, more importantly, it’s influenced him as a person.

denicola_12“I’ve spent time exploring parts of the world like Indonesia and Fiji where few people have gone. And seeing the young, local kids and going into these poor areas, you might think, they don’t have much. But then, they’re all smiling and singing and they’re super-happy. Granted, they might not have the things that I have. But, on the flipside, it seems like they’ve tapped into something special that I don’t possess myself. Contentment. And it reminds me to realign my priorities and, hopefully, to ensure that I’m doing what I’m doing for the right reasons to reach others. I find these experiences substantial and grounding.”

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Along the way, de Nicola’s also done his part to give back to the sport he loves. Around 2000, he decided to stop competing. After a few years off to recover and rejuvenate himself, he rejoined the tour and immediately started winning again. He rediscovered the killer instinct and the confidence to win, but he realized that he wasn’t doing his truly best surfing. He was simply surfing within a pre-determined contest formula.

denicola_15He decided to change all that by creating a new format called the Red Bull 5x, a type of Skins Game for surfing. Five top surfers each dropped $5 into a hat. Then, they paddled out and surfed world-class, idyllic spots like Cabo, Mexico, Hawaii or Fiji. The hour-and-a-half-long “expression session” was taped. The pros then judged and scored themselves based on five categories: Mojo (Overall session), Boost (Best air), Torque (Best turn), Combo. (Best ride) and Push. (Progressive maneuver). The winner took home the pool, a whopping $25. The whole “contest” was broadcast on NBC, Fox and Fuel TV.

denicola_13He may be humble about his contribution to the progression of the sport, but he’s also very proud of his accomplishment. As he puts it, it changed the face of modern contest surfing for the better. “I simply created a platform for them to display what they’re truly capable of. And they were able to score themselves and we broadcast it so that kids watching it could say, ‘There’s my hero. That’s what he can do. That’s what he thinks is cool.’ So I really wanted to bypass all the bullshit and it wasn’t about money. It was about bragging rights. It was about a bro-down. It worked. The surfers loved it. And, most importantly, the skill level in competitions just went ‘Boom.'”

More recently, he’s completed a documentary film called The Westsiders based on a real-life look inside a core group of Santa Cruz surfers and continued his work with Recycled Surfboard Program. He expounds: “I go around and find old broken boards, fix ’em up, paint ’em up, and the challenge is to make them functional and ride-able. I’ve discovered that I could find beat-up boards that were going to the dump and I make them functional and beautiful. Then, I’d ride them and strangely, people were suddenly offering me crazy amounts of money to buy this board or that board ’cause it looks like magic.”

denicola_161Magic indeed. No matter whether it’s a secret full moon surf session in Tahiti or creating a custom art installation series for a private client in Beverly Hills, the one constant in de Nicola’s life is change. Just like water. And, for the boy-turned-man who’s always lived near the flowing sea, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Yeah, that’s surfing,” he says. “No two waves are ever the same. You can’t duplicate a ride. You can’t duplicate a maneuver. It’s always going to be different. So you have to flow and adapt. Just like life.”

Originally created and posted at Western CIV

Surf + Skate Meet Art! Opening Party at Dogtown Realty Saturday, January 25

The Grand Opening of Dogtown Realty is celebrated with the art of surfer Michael Torquato deNicola on Saturday, January 25, 2014, starting at 7pm. Dogtown Realty was previously located in Venice and is now in its brand new Santa Monica location at 2009 Main Street by owner, Assaf Raz. He also owns Dogtown Coffee a few doors away on Main Street.

Read the rest of the article on my Venicelife