When Tracks and Wakes Cross. | A Quiet Lunch Interview with So-Cal Artist Michael Torquato de Nicola.

In The Menu, Visual Arts by Quiet Lunch

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.

Torquato Studio Floor
We can never have enough of nature.Henry David Thoreau.

And so it is with Torquato de Nicola, former pro-surfer, a man connected to the sea and an artist connected to the world via surfing. As an ambassador to many top surf apparel brands, he travels extensively to every corner of the globe in search the perfect wave all the while carefully observing how the natural world around him –from remote point breaks in North Sumatra to desolate shorelines along the African coast– unravels her hidden beauty and delicate, fleeting patterns, her soothing, shifting rhythms, her rising tides, her cries for help. For Mr. Torquato de Nicola also examines too how man’s encroachment therein impacts this precious and delicate life-giving force and involves himself accordingly at protecting it.

outside-michaels-studio-downtown-laExpressionistic and painterly in style, Torquato de Nicola paints hymns to Mother Nature, to the environment, or to the 20 foot nalu he rode last week. His paintings, like those from Rhythm Series, can be looked at as pictorial fragments of a wave’s genetic code, a DNA footprint, perhaps, of a moment or place from the artist’s ritualistic life in the water; a selected freeze-frame from Torquato de Nicola’s retinal memory that will never exist exactly the same way in reality ever again. After all, no two waves are alike.

And herein lies the poetry of his art: Torquato de Nicola captures the ongoing and lasting positive vibrations of our world (not just his) and they hum in vibrant colors and swirling patterns that sing in silent melodies, visual melodies attuned to such wonders as the harmonic and ephemeral traces left behind when a surfer cuts across the wave or rips off the lip of one: the wake; the artist’s lineations of nature’s splendid residue harnessed after a solid surf session and applied the canvas as seemingly as his wave riding skills appear, effortlessly. His are surfaces of paint in multitudes of tone and hue that shimmer and reverberate similarly as the sun’s rays bounce atop the ocean’s surface refracting its light –and just as brilliantly.

Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.Walt Whitman.

With the increased popularity of surfing in the world, it would be easy to imagine Thoreau paddle boarding Walden Pond instead walking around it and Whitman singing The Song of the Open Road on his way east to surf Montauk Point, or west to hang ten at Trestles in Orange County where Michael first learned to surf as a young boy. To see these three men discussing the poetics of technique, torque, power, and flow while walking the Pacific shoreline or sharing water time is not far fetched. For Torquato de Nicola, interestingly enough, is named after the famed 16th century Sorrentinian poet, Torquato Tasso, and indeed channels a poet-spirit vibe whose art is at once analogous to the words of Thoreau and Whitman as it is visual testament to the spiritual meaning behind those words: to never forsake the connection with the self and the natural world nor to ever abandon that inner longing to that which satisfies the soul amidst God’s splendor most, truth.


We met with him at his downtown LA studio where he moved last year from Pacific Palisades where the surf and ocean were right outside his door. His move signals a significant shift in his career, one which places emphasis on studio time over surf time. And also the desire to be right in the middle of a thriving art community. And there’s no doubt in this observer’s eyes, the move is paying off.


3-Panel Torquato Screen


Painted Screen Doors by Torquato.

QL: From the Pacific Ocean to the downtown urban sprawl. From seeing empty beaches for a quiet morning surf outside your home to ever-growing homeless encampments outside your studio door. Tell how the move and your daily living environment has had an impact on your work?
MTdN: Wow, there have been so many changes and shifts. I now can work on a larger scale and on multiple works at once which really suits and inspires me. I can move freely here. The environment is very alive, both inside with my boards, door paintings and colors everywhere and outside with all the homeless and encampments and the hustle and bustle of downtown LA. I find it all very energizing and, once inside the studio, can tune-in and get to work around the clock, the studio becoming a creative sanctuary away from the chaos outside with the buildings, trains, trucks and people. I find that my days in the studio are more focused now than ever. And since it takes more effort and time commitment to surf living further away from the beach, from the open sky and quietness, I make sure with online forecasts that when I do go for a surf, I’m always getting waves. No wasted days. So I’d say I’m finding a better balance and focus here for both work and surf. And with the new studio, I am more grateful than ever for these things I get to do.
QL: I see you have the trains right outside your door too? How often do they pass? And do they always honk the horn?
MTdN: The tracks are 29’ from my window. I’m on the East Side of the LA River with the tracks between me and the water. On the West Side of the River are the commuter trains. I have the freight trains on my side, the East side. They run 24 hours a day and by law have to honk their horns when they approach Main Street, which is the street my building is on. So between that and the cement factory on the other side, I am currently living amongst an ongoing urban symphony.
QL: And how long have you been living here now?
MTdN: I moved here in June of 2015, so almost a year and a half.
QL: How long to the beach from here?
MTdN: The drive back to Venice / Topanga is about 20 minutes at the right time. At the wrong time it can be 2 hours.  If I leave around 5AM (or earlier) I can get up and down the coast or to the Westside in a breeze. Or, I also have left boards at spots in Venice and Topanga and ride my bike to the train and take that to Santa Monica. From there I can ride to the spots, grab my board and go for a surf. The waves and my schedule dictate the approach.
QL: You’ve collaborated with the likes of Quicksilver, O’Neill and Spyder and who else? Tell me about the current one with Tony Alva and you, please?
MTdN: Yes, over the years I was sponsored by a bunch of different brands some large and some small. Some are still thriving now and some have faded away. From surfboards to eyeglasses to wax to boots, that was the game. But times change and as does the economy and even the popularity of surfing and along with this , the motivation and direction of each of these brands to meet their bottom lines.   As the times are changing, the cost of living continues to increase and the big tech companies continue to move into the Santa Monica and Venice areas ( Silicon Beach it’s called ) many of the local shops, artists, etc have been pushed out. The original Zepher / Dogtown and Z-Boys surf shop in Santa Monica was called Horizon West. They closed their doors in 2007. The location was became a historical landmark and companies such as Dogtown Coffee and Dogtown Realty set up shop[ there. They hired me to make murals in these locations to help root them in the community and it’s history. A brand called The Dogtown Crew (DTC) is being launched to help keep this local community alive.  Products by locals are being created and sold on this platform with proceeds going to Heal The Bay which is a local environmental group who has helped to restore the LA Bay and to keep out local waters and beaches clean. DTC is launching with Tony on the Skate side of things and me on the Surf side with his Alva logo and my Torquato logo on t-shirts, hoodies, hats, etc…




When Wakes and Tracks Meet….

QL: That’s awesome, Mike, congratulations. And don’t you help out with other good causes too?
MTdN: Yes, organizations like Surfers Healing are incredible. They take children with autism out for surfing experiences and there is nothing like it and the kids, their parents and friends as well as the instructors are all so stoked!! It is truly a celebration of the human experience and the surfing experience combined and like none other. And we have Israel ‘Izzy’ Paskowitz and his wife Danielle to thank for that. Tremendous people.
QL: Great people indeed and great cause without doubt. Big shout out to them!
MTdN: Definitely.
QL: What brand featured you on the 50′ billboard in Japan?
MTdN: I have been working with Rincon Wetsuits from Japan for the past 6-8 years. I play Zoolander once a year and they use the photos for their ads and catalogues, etc.. They make me all sorts of the sickest wetsuits I’ve ever had.
QL: Cool. Tell our readers the collaboration you did with Red Bull a few years back, please.
MTdN: Sure. It was 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 combination of tricks) and Push (progressive maneuver). The winner took home the pool, a whopping $25. The entire “contest” was broadcast on NBC, Fox and Fuel TV. As time has passed, the project had become more relevant than ever. It was way ahead of its time. When I created and launched it, there was no reality TV, no social media and no cell phones with incredible cameras. Simply put, the point of the project was to give surfing back to the surfers. Contests are big machines with a corporate agenda these days. And when you strip away all the bullshit, competing in surf looks pretty different in its pure form. The idea was to provide the platform for surfers to showcase themselves and then let their best be seen and judged by their peers. 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! All of the TV shows/films and tours were well received because it struck a nerve with people and they engaged. I’m working to relaunch it with the current technologies in place.
QL: And how do you create these Reef Paintings?
MTdN: The Reef Paintings are a way for me to bring my travels back home, to take the journey with me. When I travel, I’m often going to the most stunning places on the planet.  The environment is very different than DTLA. The trip to N. Sumatra for example, very remote with monkeys in the trees and cobras in the garden. The ocean is alive, the tropic jungle covers the islands all of which are on the equator in the Indian Ocean with colors and color combinations on the reefs that looked like nothing I’d ever seen before. The process is essentially to take an imprint from the reef. As the tide goes out, I place canvases on the exposed reef and get an imprint of it’s pattern and formation by using water based paints that reflect the surrounding environment. When the tide turns and rises I have to pull the canvases off the reefs and bring back to shore at which point I continue working. I do this day after day so there is a daily focused ritual based on the tides that bring them to life. It becomes a sort of meditation on the environment where I tune into the tides, swells, weather and surrounding environment.

torquato-ripping-it-up-n-sumantra-2016QL: What’s it like hanging-out in downtown LA and what artist do you hang with?
MTdN: I’m always roaming and going to a lot of gallery and museum shows, it is blowing up around here. There is so much going on all of the time, it’s exciting and inspiring. I’ve been having some good talks with Dave Tourjé, he’s a good dude. He get’s where I’m coming from and comes from a similar surf-skate-artist background.  He’s such a good sounding board, an incredible artist with a solid history in the art world and local community.  We’ve both been committed to our practises for long periods of time and it seems the world is really opening up to the visual language we’ve been creating all these years. And it was cool to have the art critic Shana Nys Dembrot pay a visit to the studio the other day as well.
QL: What did she have to say?
MTdN: My work is based on my observations of nature and reflects this through it’s creation, in the rhythms and patterns of my brushwork. One thing she noted in her observation was the balance in the work with the raw energy from the outside, natural world juxtaposed with the refined techniques of the inside, studio world; how a painting might start on a reef in North Sumatra but becomes finalized within the studio walls, framed and ready for the gallery. Without balance I’ll get swept away (laughs). But then again, that’s why I work on breath holds.
QL: And how long can you go underwater for?
MTdN: I took a free diving class last year and held my breath for over 5 minutes. Granted it was in the pool and more calm than the ocean and safety was present but still, for over 5 minutes! I was blown away. It was a great reminder that the human body is more resilient than we think and putting our minds in a good, comforting place can really open doors we never imagined possible.
QL: Thank you, Michael. All the best on the show!
MTdN: Thank you, Quiet Lunch. Ready to go for a surf?

– Gregory de la Haba

VISIT :  www.iamtorquato.com
Rolling Waves to Rolling Trains
Recent Paintings by Michael Torquato de Nicola
B & B & Co. Gallery
516 E 4th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Opening Reception
Sunday, December 4, 2016
Artist Talk
Sunday, December 11