An uncanny and surreal portrayal of everyday life.
Trina Turturici is a Los Angeles based artist working in painting, sculpture, and collage. Her paintings develop out of a combination of impromptu layering and masking of shapes with direct observation of her immediate surroundings. The result is an uncanny and surreal portrayal of everyday life. For Turturici, the final piece – the end product – is often most frustrating, as she finds the more she re-works the canvas, each move highlights the endless limit of possibilities. Celebrating the powerful synergy between our bodies and minds, Turturici recently made a connection between her artistic process and approach to athletics; that her best decisions are made when she reacts quickly, using her gut. Actively engaging with the push and pull of her ego and id, Turturici produces a tension between reality and fantasy in her work, celebrating the drama it provides. DATEAGLE ART met with Turturici at her downtown studio to learn more about why she wants her paintings to produce a reaction similar to her opinion of Los Angeles; shocking and exhilarating / disgusting and beautiful.
Turturici was born in 1986 in San Jose, California. She received her BFA in Drawing and Painting from California State University, Long Beach in 2010 and her MFA in Painting from Boston University in 2013. Her work has been exhibited at various galleries in Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, and Oakland.
BACKGROUND & STUDIO
You often work in the studio at night; do you think that this affects your practice and creative process in anyway?
I prefer painting in the late morning into the evening, but because of my day job, I have to paint at night. Working a job during the day affects my creative process in a few ways, good and bad. Although I’m a bit tired when I get to the studio, I’m excited to paint because I have just spent an entire day doing mundane, boring office work. The limited time I have to be creative makes me appreciate every moment spent in the studio. When I’m there, that’s my time to really cut loose and let my mind wander. I’ve found that because I’m not coming into the studio energised from a full night’s sleep, that it’s almost easier to slip into a flow state. When I get absorbed in my creative process, the sights and sounds of the day seep into my work. Overall, I’ve found working at night to be beneficial because it’s a quiet time to reflect on the day, and consider the possibilities of tomorrow.
Your practice focuses on re-working the canvas over and over. Do you like seeing your unfinished pieces in the studio, or do you find it frustrating when you know there is still so much you want to do with your creation?
I don’t mind seeing unfinished work in the studio because I like having a never-ending pile of projects. I get frustrated when work ends up sitting around for months because I’m stumped or being too cautious to make a move. It really messes with my ego. Starting something new is exciting because it has so much potential. As I go, the process gets more daunting because every move I make seems to limit its possibilities. Finishing a piece is the hardest part, and often very frustrating. I usually have at least a dozen paintings going at once, and all are in different stages of completion. That helps ease the anxiety of starting something new and finishing something I’ve been working on for months. If I’m frustrated with one piece, working on another will help me figure out what to do next. Occasionally, I’ll finish a new painting in one day, after having spent weeks working on another that seemed impossible to resolve. I call it my lucky day when that happens.
You are interested in representing a collaboration between the conscious and subconscious mind through your practice. Where does this fascination stem from?
This stems from recognising my strengths and weaknesses as a person. I’m very detail oriented, and a perfectionist as well, which causes me to often overthink everything I do. When I was a kid, I was naturally athletic, and I spent most of my free time playing sports. I was a theatrical and scrappy athlete, often diving and sliding to make a play. Recently, I made the connection between my creativity and athleticism. I realized that I’m actually much better at making decisions when I react quickly using my gut. There’s a powerful connection between our bodies and minds that we underestimate. Beautiful and surprising things can happen when you shut off your brain and simply react. It’s a lot like sex. If you spend too much thinking about results and which moves will create which outcomes instead of reacting intuitively it will be stiff, boring, and clumsy. The reason I don’t want to rely solely on my subconscious and intuition is that I find the push and pull of my ego and id to be fascinating. I like to think that my subject matter represents the ego and my process of making represents the id. Visually, it creates the tension between reality and fantasy that I want to show in my work. I like tension because that’s where all the drama happens.
How easy is it for you to decipher between your conscious and subconscious thoughts? Do you have a specific process?
It’s difficult to decipher between the two, and it’s taken a lot of practice and experimentation to figure out how to do it. I’ve found various ways of tricking myself into painting without consciously knowing what I’m doing in the moment. One process I’ve developed involves covering portions of my paintings with cut pieces of paper, and painting on the uncovered parts. I lay the painting down flat and alternate layers of paper shapes and paint. Once the canvas has been covered, I lift the papers up to reveal a surprise image. I then paint back into it, making conscious decisions on composition and colour. I’ve also started using a projector to project drawings from my sketchbook onto my canvases. I have to shut off the lights when I use the projector, so there’s limited visibility. I mix my colours beforehand and as I paint in dim lighting, I have to trust that I’m making the right marks. When I turn the lights back on I’m surprised by the results. I’m basically creating scenarios to surprise myself and make mistakes.
You use the shapes of ordinary objects and landscapes, which you see in your daily life as a starting point. Can you name a few examples?
The shadow of a chain-link fence on the sidewalk, a spilled smoothie, a piñata hanging in a store window, the contour of a succulent in my neighbour’s yard, the mountains in the distance, multiple layers of paint that don’t quite match on a graffitied wall, pizza, tacos, office supplies, bathroom tile, faux marble finish, palm trees, an abandoned bike wheel chained to a pole, a sign post covered in layers of ripped band posters, a stranger fixing their hair in the reflection of a window, avocados, driftwood, sea shells, drought tolerant gardens, a truck carrying loads of old mattresses and shopping carts, etc…
How does living in Los Angeles affects your creative practice, if at all?
Living in LA affects everything I do. LA is a vibrant and surreal place. It’s where the impossible seems possible or at least we’re given the illusion that it’s possible. I find it fascinating that LA is basically a desert where water is pumped in from hundreds of miles away. It’s a miracle that people can live here. At least once a month I walk by a film crew on the street or have to remap my commute because a street is closed off for filming. I’ve seen my local coffee shop and grocery store in the backgrounds of various TV shows and movies. LA is weird and wild. The sun is out about 90% of the time. It’s like having a spotlight forever shining down on you and there’s no hiding from it. The summers are excruciatingly hot, and will drive you to delirium. The illegal fireworks start going off in May and continue through the fall. They’ll keep you on your toes and you’ll think ‘fireworks or gunshots?’. LA is a city of stark contrasts. I see it every day. It’s shocking and exhilarating. It’s disgusting and beautiful. I want my paintings to be like that.
The physical seems to be a strong theme in your work; the process of cutting and re-working. Would you say that the act of cutting in your practice is cathartic?
Cutting and re-working is an integral part of my practice. I don’t specifically do it for catharsis, but I’m sure it provides some relief. The cutting aspect of my process feels more like drawing than anything else. I have a lot of pent-up energy, so I have to be physical with my work or I become frustrated. I’m the kind of person that’s always moving and always working. That’s why I end up re-working and painting over and over. I think it’s partly out of neurosis and partly out of being insatiable.
From what I have seen of your work, the figure appears to be mostly absent. Is there a particular reason for this?
I come from a very traditional painting background, and I actually learned to paint through observing the figure. After graduate school, I started leaving the figure out, and developing my own focus and process. I felt that I was holding on too strongly to what my professors had taught me. It took me awhile to break away, but I had to do it, especially since the majority of my professors were older men. I never felt that I could truly paint what or how I wanted to, out of fear of ridicule. Now amidst my own personal rebellion, I am finding myself going back to the figure. I often put fragmented faces and body parts into my paintings and have some secret figurative paintings in my studio. I have a feeling that more figuration will start to appear in my work.
Can you tell me about your approach to sculpture and how this relates to your canvas work?
My approaches are very similar. There’s definitely more experimentation going on, mostly out of necessity, because I’m not an expert with the materials. I find not having expertise gives me more freedom to play around without the fear of failure. My sculptures are made with construction materials; concrete, gypsum board, joint compound, insulation foam, metal chain, house paint, and found materials. I use plastic containers from the dollar store and beverage bottles to make moulds for the concrete, and I cut and connect the plastic pieces using duct tape and caulk. The concrete sculptures are generated though the process of trial and error. I basically spend time figuring out how to piece together whatever mould making materials I have on hand to see what I can get away with. How can I mould the concrete into an unexpected shape? Concrete is seen as being rigid and supportive, but I want to make it appear organic and light.
It seems that you are very involved in the artist community in Los Angeles and have been included in a number of exhibitions in artist run spaces – can you name any that you will be participating in for 2019?
I have some tentative plans for 2019, but nothing is set in stone. I appreciate everyone involved in curating and running spaces in the artist community, and I’m so thankful for the friendships that I’ve made. The artist run gallery culture requires those involved to react quickly and be ready to show work with little notice, and it’s starting to affect my work. I’m planning to slow down a bit this coming year to focus on bigger projects. I hope to continue working with some of the curatorial groups and artist run galleries that I’ve shown with in the past. Those include Arvia, Holiday, Soft Core LA, Jacob’s West, LAVA Projects, Gallery ALSO, and Permanent Storage Projects.
Words by Lara Monro