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Ron Croci interview

Californian surf artist

Ron Croci talks about his 30 plus years as a commercial and fine artist…

Ron, tell us about your background, where are you from, where are you now?

RC: I was born in Chicago in 1945. My father, Marsiglio Croci, comes from Genoa, Italy. My Mother, Gemma, was born in Campainga, Italy. This hidden valley town, near the Bay of Naples, is unique in it's pastoral beauty. Why did they leave? "There was nothing to eat." After I was born, in Chicago Illinois, we lived there till I was 12 years old, and then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up there in San Mateo, and Half Moon Bay. It was there in Half Moon, that my friends and I pioneered most of the now, well known surf breaks. The 50s, and, 60s was a wonderful time to grow up there. No traffic lights, cops, or crime. Just leave home in the morning, roam the countryside, and be back for dinner. We were like Tom Sawyers with surfboards. After that came the 'Hippie Revolution', then the drugs and crime.

When I was 30, I moved to Santa Monica, to become a film designer, and have worked at the profession ever since. I also had a long stay of 14 years, where I raised my family in Palolo Valley, behind Diamond Head, Oahu. I worked on films there, as well as in Hollywood. While I lived full time in Hawaii, I surfed the breaks between 3's and Ala Moana Bowls continually, at least two or three thousand times. After my family grew up, I moved to Palos Verde's, California, where I call P.V. cove my home break. Although, I still travel to the Islands, every year.

What were your first experiences of surfing and the ocean?

RC: My first experience with the ocean was with my father, surf and party boat fishing, out of Half Moon Bay. My father was a black belt sport fisherman, and I spent many a day puking over the sides of fishing boats, as he laughed and reeled them in. Then one day a friend of mine took me to Montery, where he talked me into going out on a 10 foot day at 29 mile drive. Miraculously I caught a set wave, and proned it all the way to the beach. I got off my board and just sat and stared at the waves, I was completely hooked. That was 45 years ago, and to this day I still sit and stare at them. Even though I surf regularly, I have also added to my quiver of water sports, spearfishing, free diving, stand up paddle surfing, as well as boating.

So when did you first find an appreciation for art?

RC: My first appreciation came as a very small child of 8. We had a set of Encyclopedias, and I loved the pictures of ancient statues so much, that I secretly cut them out, and actually started my first picture file. I was the only one to open these books, so I was never nabbed… Phew! I have always loved libraries, and before the Internet, I used to just hang out, and use the books, and records. One day, as I was browsing around, I happened onto the art section, and there, poking out of the shelves was a book about Salvador Dali. On the cover was his famous painting, "The Persistence of Memory". I was stunned, and my first thought slammed me; "That's what I want to do!". So, that's what I did.

Your art is infused with rich, bright colours, with almost a romanticised view of the ocean and beach & surf culture, marine sports, portraying surfers, watermen and beautiful women, what is it about these things that inspires you so?

RC: Yes, I do paint a romanticised view of the sea, and water sports. All the things I paint pictures of, I have seen in one way or another. This section of beach life that I like to portray is really there. However, it is not the only thing that comes with the beach. The rip off's, beach fight's, vandalism, drugs, thievery, it's also there, but who would purchase a picture of a car break in? I try to communicate the imaginings that we all have. When a viewer looks at one of my pieces, I would like them to think, "Yes, on my best day, that's what I want!"… So that's what I also want. From that first ride, to my last day alive, even if I can no longer surf, still, a surfer in spirit, totally committed.

The human form, figuratively seems an important element in your work, as does your attention to detail, referring to the art tutorials you did for COTW

RC: I love to draw people. Most of the great art is about ourselves. I am not saying that I am great at it, but herein lies my challenge. For me to not have people in my art is to fail in my goals. A picture without people seems lonely. Now I realize that a person in a picture reduces the scope of possible buyers, and I know also that often people want surf art to portray only the dream of an open seascape. For me though, a beach without a bikini, and a wave without a man or women, just has an emptiness to it. For God's sake, we are surfers. That's what I do. I paint surfing.

How has your art evolved over the years?

RC: In the beginning I just wanted to shock people. As all good youth do, I loved to get a reaction. Even into my twenties, I used sex, and violence to freak people out, but as I look back on my past, I ask, "What was I thinking?". Shock is the easy way out. Now, I say, make it beautiful. Whether the subject matter is a lovely young lady surfing a perfect San Onofre roller, or a gladiator being crucified, that element of beauty, and inspiration must always be there. I haven't wanted to shock people for a long time. Although, I do have a mischievous side, as in my series of drawings titled, "Really Gnarly Wipeouts". These contain all manner of cord strangling, castrations, board tips to the eye, skull's crushed on reefs, and drowned bodies tangled in kelp. But that's for another time. My goal now is to inspire. It is so much harder to create a piece of art that elevates the human condition, than it is to degrade it. Modern art is an angry art, and I want to move away from that. I endeavour to develop an art that gives, rather than takes. Time is so short, and it is as though this vision is always beyond my grasp.

Are there any other artists, individuals or organisations that inspire your work?

RC: The list is long, but I am generally inspired by the 'Golden Age of American Illustration', with artists such as N.C. Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, John LaGatta, Andrew Loomis, Edwin Tunis, and Anton Fisher, not only because he was an inspired marine artist, but also because he died at his easel, and of course our best female figurative artist, Gil Elvgren. Before them, of course there is Mary Cassat, as well as Jauqin Sarolla. In contemporary art, I love Robert McGuiness, Mobius, Frank Miller, Amano, Tom Lovell, Sid Mead, Lucian Freud, James Gurney, and… There are so many, I can't list them all. My biggest influences in the film design business are the four greats, Dan Groesbeck, who practically invented motion picture art, John DeCure, David Constable (one of the first Palos Verde's Cove Surfers), and Mentor Huebner. In Surfing Art, I am a huge fan of Rick, Wade, and Ken. Of course for their beautiful painting's, but also for the way they open my mind, and show me what wonderful things are possible, not only in technique, but also in concept. And last, but not least, the master, Michelangelo Buonarroti.

When and how did you first start to make a living out of your art and illustration skills?

RC: In the late sixties, and early seventies, is when I first began to develop a dual career of fine art and illustration. Fortunately for me, I have some childhood friends who became Art Directors at some International advertising agencies. With their help I managed to learn enough to venture out on my own. Then, as now, I try to do anything I can to create artwork that fills my pockets with cash.

You have been commissioned (a number of times) by Quiksilver's Roxy division to do a painting to be featured on their contest posters and other collateral uses. What was it like for you to work with such a 'giant' in the surf industry, knowing your work will be seen & enjoyed by all at the contest, in the print media and online, all around the world…?

RC: Working with the Roxy division of Quiksilver is a blast. The Art Directors there are brilliant at creating original artwork, and graphics for print and film. I am honoured and flattered that I have been considered for the creation of some of these print ad's. I enjoy working with 'Giants', and Quik is certainly one of them. Also, I have worked for many of the biggest names in the business, such as Town & Country, and Local Motion. Roxy has promoted my art throughout Europe this year, and it is wonderful to see it on so many European announcements. It is very gratifying to know that my framed originals are hanging in the corporate headquarters in France. In my field, I have worked with all of the biggest movie studios, and International advertising agencies. I feel completely at ease working for Roxy, because I know they are eagerly awaiting my creative input. The Art Director knows that I will work through each and every creative challenge to produce, on time, a quality painting of the highest standard.

You were once the Lead Designer at the Hawaii Maritime Museum, the largest maritime museum in the Pacific. What was it like to be involved with such an organisation, in Hawaii, with such a rich and vast history, so deeply rooted in surfing history…?

RC: That was a milestone for me. As lead designer, I spent 12 months designing historical, current, and future insights about Hawaii's, and the Pacific's maritime condition. The legend himself, Tommy Holms, was the creator and driving force since the museum's inception. With Tommy's guidance, the museum became the historical centre that it is today. To have the privilege of interviewing dozens of Hawaii's historical experts, in order to piece together this history was almost physically exciting. To be able to hold Queen Liliokulani's actual personal surfboard that she rode at Queens was a thrill that the surfer in me will never forget. Whenever visiting Waikiki and surfing the beautiful South Shore be sure to spend a few hours at the museum.

You have been involved with a number of feature films and television productions as an illustrative artist, could you talk to us about that, and what's involved?

RC: Sure. I have been a designer/illustrator/storyboard artist on 45 feature films, and I stopped counting at 200 commercials. In the film business, I am what's called a Concept Artist. My resume is readily available to anyone who wants to see it. A Concept Artist's job is to invent ideas. These ideas are what are needed to arrive at a final visual conclusion. For example, the film company needs to design set's, prop's, a visual effect, creature, car, plane, or anything that is not visualised. I begin by making thumbnail sketches, dozens of them, then make a presentation Photoshop, marker comps, very much like I did in the Roxy tutorial. They are then presented to the Director, Bankers, and Producers, and all of the decision makers. After refinement of the comps, the artwork then goes to whichever department is destined to create the end result for the final film.

Story boarding is a type of sequential art depicting the action in the film. Not all sequences in a film are boarded, however sometimes they are. An entire 90 minute feature has about 2,500 drawings, with 3 per page. The most common use of storyboards is the action sequences. All these drawings are done so that the film can be visualized on paper before getting started. The boards, and comps help determine the budget as well as the visuals. Not all films are boarded of course. This type of artwork is mostly used in big budget features, and commercials. It is very important to see what can be done before getting started, so that on the first day of live action, the crew is not standing around wondering what to do. At $100,000 a day, time is of the essence.

I enjoy working on film's very much because the creative possibilities are wide open, and the artist has to design things he would never have come up with on his own. Also the competition among the different artist's in an art department, really make the artist rise to a higher level. Please look at my website: www.roncroci.com, and click on 'storyboards', and 'concepts', in order to get an idea of what I am talking about.

Looking back on over 30 years of commercial and fine art experience, what have been your fondest memories?

RC: Please let me list a few of them…

1. Historic murals in public places. I love making them, because so many people can see, and learn from them.

2. Illustrating educational children's books. I enjoy working on these because most of the one's I have created are used to help children cope with the problems of every day life. I have also been lucky enough to illustrate one of the best selling "Complete Works of Hans Christian Anderson", as well as Nancy Drew, and various religious, and science books.

3. In the feature film area, some of my favourites have been "Star Trek", because it was my first film, then "Flintstones, Viva Rock Vegas", because I laughed for three whole months. Also, way back, "Blues Brothers", because I got to hang out with the legends. I loved "Planet Of The Apes", because I am a weapons specialist, and I designed almost all of the weapons in the film. I could go on, but it would be getting quite tedious.

4. Surfing art, because this is my life. Surfing, and all the other water sports I am involved in, never leave my thoughts.

…These are really just a few things, because all of the work I have done in my career has been very challenging, and exciting.

Out of all your artwork's to date, do you have a favourite?

RC: It is impossible to have a favourite, as in a favourite painting, because the art, whether it's in painting, films, books, or anything, they all come in sets, just like waves. Funny though, how I can name off my worst artistic experiences, but that, like my worst wipeouts, is for another question. However, let me name a few good ones. Way back in 82, I was a designer on a film titled "Yes Giorgio", starring Luciano Pavarotti. I designed the stage, and all the props, plus some costumes. I got to meet the singer himself, and hear him and the orchestra rehearse "Pucinni's Turandot", every night for a month. Then he wrote on the poster, in Italian: "to Ron, a great artist" …Yes!

In the early 90s I worked as an illustrator on a film titled "Farewell to the King", staring Nick Nolte. I worked on location in the island of Borneo for one month. The film was directed by John Millius, and co-stared Gerry Lopez. This was the real jungle. Had a blast hanging out with Millius, Lopez, Nolte and Leonard Brady. Then my stay at Island Heritage, where I designed all types of prints, and packaging. I had a free hand at designing everything. Then after work, every afternoon, surf the Kaiser Bowl. I also did a long period in the 90s where I was a military artist, designing posters, and exhibits. I hate war, but love to draw the equipment, and drama. And of course the Hawaii Maritime Museum.

My favourite mural is one I painted for the city of 29 Palms California, depicting the history of the area. My favourite book, out of 15, was "The Complete Works of Hans Christian Anderson", which was a bestseller. I love working for Roxy. At this time, I am painting quite a lot of surf art. Two pieces that I like a lot are, "Shadow Wave", for it's drama, and "Take Off At Temple Point", for it's adventure theme. I am also taking a great interest in painting various scenes of surfing from underwater, such as "Backdoor Wipeout". I'm very critical about what I do, and tend to focus on weakness, and not strength, so it is tough to have a favourite.

So where do those who want to see your artwork and/or purchase your art have to go?

RC: There are many channels to my work, however they all lead to just a few places. Of course, there is my website: www.roncroci.com, and my profile on this site. In the commercial art category, there is www.famousframes.com. My surf art is being represented by 'two brick and mortar' galleries, as well as the online gallery: www.waveridersgallery.net. On the East Coast is www.surfingartistsinternational.com, and on the West Coast: www.mckibbenstudios.com

Steve McKibben has been a real inspiration, not only to myself, but to other artists, and collectors as well. The McKibben Studio is a team effort, between the artist, and gallery owner. McKibben has been able to introduce me to many collectors and surf personalities. He has been able to distribute my work to many new galleries, as well as new sales venues. Our newest printing techniques are the finest in the printing business. With the new techniques, my enhanced giclees look 99% like the original. Mckibben Studio's is featuring my original art, giclee's, and posters, both through the website and at the gallery. The beautiful new gallery is located on the East Coast Highway, in Corona del Mar, California, and is a milestone in surfing, and tropical lifestyle art. Please take some time to visit these beautiful galleries, and view the world's finest surf, and marine art.

What does the future hold for your art?

RC: Well, if God, and good luck permits, I will paint till I die. I hope to always have a hand in feature films, and of course, surf art and the sea are my loves, and will continue to inspire me throughout my life. I will continue to be a full time illustrator for Spearfishing Magazine. I love this because they give me cart blanch to do anything I want. What's coming up is very exciting. I am near completing a four-panel set of paintings depicting "The Four Seasons In Surfing"; Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. Also, a series of still life's of surfing related subjects.

Now this is huge. I have been working on a revolutionary concept in technology/surf art. This first ever project is a graphic novel for cell/mobile telephones. It is sponsored by one of the industries major companies. This is a pay-per-view instalment series. There will be approximately 18 instalments of 5 minutes each, once a week. The story tells of the worldwide adventure of the companies' all girl surf team. It's a beautiful as well as original concept. Wait till you see it. There has never been anything like it before.

RC: At this time I would like to thank the readers for taking the time to read this interview, and to thank Club Of The Waves for giving me the opportunity to tell my story.

You're very welcome Ron, and thanks again for this insight into your work and your many contributions to COTW!

Bookmark and Share Ron Croci & COTW / 2007

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