INTERVIEW: Michael Torquato deNicola Talks About His Torquato Character, His Grandma, and His Upcoming Show at FATHOM

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Torquato projection in Little Tokyo by Michael Torquato deNicola

Artist Michael Torquato deNicola started out as a professional surfer, and if you saw his installation at Art at the Rendon’s Hidden Rooms last June, you know surfing is still a big part of his life. His next art show, “Torquato Says, ‘Love More…’” opens at FATHOM in Brentwood on Saturday, February 2, and features paintings on found objects, surfboards, and canvas. Appropriately, the love-themed show will be open through Valentine’s Day.

deNicola is currently based in Lincoln Heights, or as he likes to call it, “the North end of the Arts District.” Earlier this week, he projected images of artwork from the upcoming show onto buildings around the city. Pictured above is his Torquato character, projected from the top of the Little Tokyo shopping center onto the building next to it. He says, “The Little Tokyo shopping center is where I got the idea for the Torquato character in the first place. Fifteen years later, it’s up on the streets and on walls around the world.”

In advance of the new show, deNicola talked to Cartwheel about the inspirations behind his work, and the message he hopes people will take away from it.

Michael Torquato deNicola

Why did you name the show “Torquato Says, ‘Love More…’”?

Recently, it feels like the world’s been upside down. Everything has been really intense and negative: politically, environmentally, socially, etc…  Personally, I’ve recently lost several friends, and it’s easy to get hardened, angry and sad. The title “Torquato Says, ‘Love More…’” seems like a good reminder for us all to make an effort to try and love each other a little more and lift each other up, I think we all need it.

What gave you the idea for the Torquato character?

Back around 2004, my friends had a studio at 3rd and Santa Fe in the building across the street from where Hauser and Wirth is now. I’d come over to make art, go to MOCA and wander around Little Tokyo. At the supermarket in Little Tokyo, I loved the animations on the packaging of the products, especially the candy.

At the time, Red Bull was sponsoring my 5X Game for surfing and I was working a lot with stencils and collages to create all of the artwork to support the project. Red Bull was looking for greater brand integration into the show and artwork. I had the thought that if you were to animate the bulls and bring them to life, one of them would look something like what the Torquato character is now. I showed it to them and they liked it, but said, “You can’t mess with our logo.”  So I put it aside but kept coming back to it. Over time I started using it more and more. I gave it my middle name, which is Torquato, and then started to create its backstory and a narrative for it moving forward which includes the positive message “Yes You Can !!!” I started putting it on my surfboards, on T-shirts, and in my artwork. It’s funny to think that Torquato is now a teenager.

Sunny Dayz by Michael Torquato deNicola

Sunny Dayz by Michael Torquato deNicola

What inspired your Torquato and Hearts series?

For the past 10 years I’ve been creating what has become an ongoing series of works. It started by having coffee in the mornings with my grandma. I first moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s. My grandpa had passed away and my grandma was living alone in a house at the beach near Topanga. I started out renting a room from her and ended up living there for 23 years. Most mornings, we would meet upstairs for coffee and we’d go through the LA Times. She would start with the Sports section and I would start with the Entertainment section. We would end up talking about our Horoscopes and then she would cut out the ‘Love Is…’ comic.

The ‘Love Is…’ comic is a daily cartoon that shows an act of love. It could be romantic love, love for a friend, a neighbor, the environment, etc… This was a daily ritual, so over the years there were stacks and stacks of these cut-out comics. She would send them to family and her friends. It was about 10 years ago that I first took a bunch of the comics and made a collage with them.  I included my Torquato character with hearts and gave it to her for Valentine’s Day, which also happens to be her and my grandfather’s wedding anniversary.

I See You by Michael Torquato deNicola projected in Chinatown

I See You by Michael Torquato deNicola, projected in Chinatown

Can you talk a little about the projections you’ve been doing in DTLA?

I do that around shows. It’s one thing to have art in a gallery, which I love, and I want people to enjoy it. But the message is much bigger than being confined to a small space. We’re in a weird time, and we really all do need a reminder that we need to love each other more. Anything to catch people’s attention and spread that reminder seems like it’s a cause worth going after.

What else do you want people to know about “Torquato Says, ‘Love More…’”?

There are around 20 original works in the show, and they were created with a variety of materials. Some of them include the ‘Love Is…’ comics while others were made on burlap, doors, windows, and surfboards. Many of them include surfboard resin as well. I like to use recycled objects as a way to represent renewed life and purpose. We’ve also created a series of prints from some of the works on paper, so there is quite an assortment.

Opening Reception:
February 2, 2019 (7 –11 pm) – RSVP here

February 2 – February 14, 2019
Tuesday – Saturday (11 am – 7 pm) and by appointment

FATHOM Los Angeles
12227 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Meeting You by Michael Torquato deNicola

Meeting You by Michael Torquato deNicola

Love Me by Michael Torquato deNicola

Love Me by Michael Torquato deNicola

Double Doors by Michael Torquato deNicola

Double Doors by Michael Torquato deNicola


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