On his mural “Montauk’s Last Supper” and live painting with bandsA
rtist Todd DiCiurcio just completed a little residency at The Surf Lodge in which he left some big things behind. One of those things is a large mural titled “Montauk’s Last Supper” that you may want to check out if you are into Montauk or art or suppers or maybe surfing. He told us the piece was “an alternative perception to the narrative” of Montauk’s history and ”a ripple through time” when we asked him about it. Then he handed the question off to Richard Phillips to give us our answer.
But more on that later.
While at the Surf Lodge Todd also stepped onstage with Donavon Frankenreiter during the singer’s set Sunday to execute one his “live” performance paintings. Something he’s done previously with the likes of Broken Social Scene, The Rolling Stones, Ty Segall, Portugal. The Man, New Order, Blondie, Guided By Voices, and Dinosaur Jr.
If you missed him in Montauk, his live painting “The Strokes Live At MSG 2011” will be included in the upcoming exhibition, “Meet Me In The Bathroom: The Art Show” curated by Hala Matar & Lizzy Goodman at The Hole in NYC, Sept. 4–22. Then watch for him at Sea. Here. Now. Festival in Asbury Park at the end of September, creating a mural and painting live with some of the musical acts.
Before he left for the West Coast to make a mural with our friend Taylor Steele, we got lucky and Todd answered some of our questions about his life in art.
How do you approach starting a mural differently from a smaller painting?
All my work starts with a ground, a larger nebulous of precipitative information that tends to carry the energy to feed the marks that follow. A difference of working larger for me is the ability to be immersed in the work, as opposed to seeing through a particular layer in the composition, one is automatically center to that surface.
You paint on a lot of media—walls, fences, surfboards, canvases. What’s the most challenging thing you ever painted on? What do you most like painting on?
My most challenging work was painting live onto a 15-foot, round inflatable created by artist Pierre de Kerangal, lit by LEDs from within by Leo Villareal, for a collaborative performance piece at NYU. I used a 10-foot pole with a 4-inch brush taped to the top and managed to create a composition on it during the hour-or-so-long performance.
I love to work on paper, believing drawing is the truth—you can’t fuck up a drawing without someone noticing. It’s a purist sensibility I hope I never lose, it’s what grounds me in my pursuit to say the most with the least.
Who are some of your influences? Where do you find inspiration now?
I get lost in the thinking there are connective synapses to places and people I love: Paris, London, Central America, the West Coast, Bukowski, Kerouac, Kesey and Babbs, reveling in some surf-starved way on my own, yet with all the reality of the new Big Sky Limited and a Poor Luther’s Bones record to live by…the toils of a past well lived and a forgotten future to create a respectable present to work within.
Music is certainly my biggest inspiration. I live for the adventure of discovering great new music, but not in the popular sense, more from the other side of the tracks. The force-fed leads today, especially in music’s pop culture, are a lashing bore. The planet is burning.
How has your style evolved over time? As you’ve become more established as an artist, is it freeing?
I’m just a vehicle in this, a mark maker from which repetition, humor and humanity have echoed through with a seemingly endless charge.
The painting starts when the show starts and ends when the music stops.
Can you explain a bit for those who haven’t seen you do one what the process of a live painting is like?
The live paintings are created during performance, but are not performance-based. My effort was, and still is to create a dialogue between visual art and music. In this way, the painting starts when the show starts and ends when the music stops. There is no editing. A continuous, often blind contour reactive line that becomes incontrovertible marks shaping a certain, yet entirely unknown composition.
How do you choose the bands you work with on a live painting?
In the beginning, I set out to paint live with bands that I listened to in the studio while I was painting. The first being Guided By Voices, which ultimately set the tone and kicked down the door for future selections. I love discovering music, the adventure of it—I remember seeing a CD in the garbage here in Brooklyn around 2004 I was drawn to, its cover with a sketched portrait on it. It was Grizzly Bear’s first release, and I fell in love with it. I later reached out to the band to draw live with them at Bowery Ballroom and they agreed. I remember showing the work to them after the show and Ed Droste telling me I made his nose too big…but he has a pronounced nose. I told him that and we shared a laugh.
If you could paint any live performer, living or dead, who would you paint?
It’s a tie between Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and The Grateful Dead.
Then Todd handed off the mic to artist Richard Phillips, to give his take on “Montauk’s Last Supper.” This is what he wrote back:
Leonardo’s “Last Supper” is arguably the most well known image in the world. Over the centuries, many artists have attempted to grapple with their own interpretation of the subject. When recently viewing Todd DiCiurcio’s large scale outdoor mural, “Montauk’s Last Supper,” at The Surf Lodge, I was reminded of another Montauk resident who took on the subject— Andy Warhol.
When I first moved to New York in 1986, one of my first jobs was at Andy’s studio. It happened to be at that time that Andy was working on his large hand-painted works that included the Last Supper paintings. Unlike the silkscreen paintings that closely preceded them, the hand painted works possessed a startling reminder of Andy as an individual, who in fact was deeply religious. Gone was the facade of the mechanized silkscreen in favor of the shaky lines that echoed the hand-painted pop paintings from decades before. Out of favor in the art market and frequently ridiculed by critics, Warhol in the ’80s was an embattled figure. The surprising turn to hand-painted imagery opened a new discourse with Warhol’s late work that would be felt strongly in the years to come as his work was being re-evaluated critically and experientially.
It is here that we find ourselves with Todd’s Last Supper mural not far from Andy’s former Montauk estate where not coincidentally, there happens to be a well known surf break out front. Similar in scale to Warhol’s largest Last Supper Works DiCiurcio’s mural is generated from the visual language of hand-painted surf culture, from graffiti on local surf break walls to the sprays on the boards themselves. The day-glo colors and black linear work fall firmly within the visual lexicon that is meant to communicate the full spectrum of energy emanating from a global surf culture.
DiCiurcio turns the subject towards rhythm and exuberance for the time we have now.
Rather than take up Warhol’s meditation on religion and loss, DiCiurcio turns the subject towards rhythm and exuberance for the time we have now. The large gestural drawing moves within the mural fade in and out of abstract and figurative imagery while emulating directly the arcs and cutbacks of lines drawn while actually surfing.
The references of the apostles poses and combined interactions are seen anew with dramatic changes in direction and speed—all the while maintaining balances of color, line density, and value.
The fact that Warhol found that the reproduction of his 60 Last Supper images was insufficient in dealing with his subject and that hand painting was the next step, lends credence to DiCiurcio’s decision to throw himself over the ledge into a ‘live’ painted mural of the same subject that demanded the same full scale physical commitment that his life of surfing has to date. With large-scale murals, context is everything and Todd DiCiurcio’s Last Supper is a statement of immediate expressive energy and the renewal that ties divergent histories to the present and future, like the memories of sessions past and the anticipation of the next swell on the horizon.–Richard Phillips