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Italian surf art

Vincenzo Ganadu interview

Italian photojournalist Antonio Muglia speaks to artist Vincenzo Ganadu, translation by Roberta Pink…

It all began in the dim distant days of 1993 out of sheer passion and a desire for freedom. I cut lectures at University to go down to the sea in search of something magical, like the waves I used to ride. In those years surfing became really important for me and I dedicated all my available time to it. Sculpture lessons were particularly fascinating because of the charisma and talent of my teacher, Pinuccio Sciola. I learnt to sculpt in clay, stone and wood with the same enthusiasm with which I was discovering surfboarding. I remember how annoyed Sciola used to get when I went into the classroom and told him that big waves would come out of the sea that day. "And what's going to come out of you?" he used to say. I used to make my way to the sea, smiling, sure that one day I would manage to capture those emotions in the art that was coming to life inside me.

How did you come to be in Mediterranean waters on a surfboard?

VG: As a boy I used to spend my holidays on the Isola Rossa, a tiny village in the north of Sardinia where my parents have a small flat. I began to go windsurfing there but I realized that on the days when it wasn't very windy two people went into the water, two people who are as big physically as they are famous. One of these was Enrico Lodi who in the course of time has become a great friend. I swapped my first pictures with him for a longboard. Surf and Sardinia.

Isn't this a strange association?

VG: In fact for a lot of foreign friends it's unthinkable to come across an Italian artist who lives in Sardinia and who paints this kind of picture. All you have to do though is to think of the geographical situation to realize what potential our waves have when the mistral is blowing. But not many go into the water. When I began there were only 2 or 3. I remember that after a couple of years I got to know other young people. Some of them have since disappeared from my life, but others are still surfing. In those days I was very happy, I had the opportunity of seeing new places and riding the waves in company. We also began at the same time to travel, to improve our technique and go surfing as a matter of course in the ocean. Now as then I take this sport very seriously. In fact in a couple of years I managed to win some important national competitions, competing against surfers who had more experience than me.

What do you think is the difference between surfing in a sea and surfing in the ocean?

VG: Heavy sea here isn't as commonplace as it is in the ocean, so I think that makes us a bit more enthusiastic. What I mean is that going surfing every day becomes a routine. Here more than a month can go by without going surfing and when a swell finally arrives then we feel we absolutely have to find time to go into the water. So we become more enthusiastic and day after day we check the weather forecast waiting faithfully to greet the waves.

When exactly did you discover surf art?

VG: I didn't start painting with my first waves. More than 4 or 5 years were necessary to make me want to transform the sensations I was managing to capture in the water into a picture on a canvas. This was made possible by Pinuccio Sciola. He used to say that every artist has always been a representative of his period and of his surroundings. I only put the kind of painting that was nearest to my heart and habits onto canvas.

So what was your work about before it became surf art?

VG: It was only about technique. In my first years at school I painted loads. I was one of the best students with a pencil, as I was with paint spray or the paint brush. But they were only exercises, exercises in technical virtuosity. They had nothing to do with art but were part of my life and my passions. Only after 4 years at university did I begin to represent the emotions that were inspiring me. One of my first canvases, entitled 'Awareness', 170 cm x 100cm, represents for example surfing, not as a dynamic action but, as the name suggests, the discovery of what it means to tear emotions out of the water, throw them onto canvas and make them real with colour, a discovery that with time has proved to be important.

We've spoken about paintbrushes, pencils and colour. What about sculpture?

VG: I keep doing sculptures but sculpture in surf art is not very well known and isn't really taken into consideration. There is no commercial outlet in this field even if I think that in the course of time there will be. I have actually made prizes out of pottery for international competitions here in Italy but I have some ambitious plans, which will have a great emotional impact.

What kind of plans?

VG: Just think of getting inside one of my pictures and being able to go round it. This is what I think I could do in actual material terms.

What have been your various points of reference in the past for surf art?

VG: Well, in Europe not many artists have thrown themselves into this very small corner of the artistic universe. Lots of articles and books have been written about them, but I personally don't appreciate them because from a technical as well as compositional point of view they make mistakes which have to do both with anatomy and colour. This is what happens to those who dedicate themselves to surf art without having the proper knowledge. Knowledge is the basis of any work.

You didn't answer my question. Has your style been influenced by somebodys technique?

VG: I haven't been influenced by any of my surf art colleagues if that's what you mean. I worked for an artist for a couple of years, helped him in his laboratory, swept the floor and made some plaster casts. I saw how he used the paint brush, even if he didn't do figurative work but only abstract compositions. This way of attacking the canvas has remained in my mind. When I went away I didn't paint for 2 or 3 years, mentally occupied as I was in creating images that came from books etc. and the photos I took during my journeys. I gradually began to amalgamate this style with dynamic images on large areas of colour, adding a few touches to focus on the athletic movement.

How does a picture of yours come into being?

VG: I buy some canvases or wooden panels that I keep for weeks or months, at times heaped on the floor. When the right moment arrives I go through a kind of spiritual ritual and produce in one week as many as 10 or 15 pieces. I usually keep 2 or 3 that strike me particularly and these will stay in the gallery, as a kind of underlying theme for the next series. A painting usually comes into being during this 'stand-by' moment. It's like waiting for the next swell: you wait weeks and weeks for the new waves. And so I have time to think of new solutions, even to search for the desire to start painting.

From a technical point of view you paint figures using large smears of colour on the canvas so that the end result is almost abstract. How do you know when a painting is finished?

VG: I create art by means of inward contemplation, looking inside myself from outside. Every time I create something it's like the first time, a gesture that is unique and that my conscience keeps pure. And when this happens I am frightened by what I can see in front of me, so frightened that the creative moment is interrupted… fearing that it will never come again. Put more simply it isn't easy to find the right moment to interrupt the 'action painting', the moment that makes the work abstract. I always bear in mind the dynamic movement or the moment in which the wave folds over. I define it with little touches and so it's still a simple illustration, but seen as a whole it's a kind of composition in which some details gradually stand out to the point in which the figurative and the abstract merge. This is the fundamental characteristic of my work. No other artist in the world has found this halfway point, this point in time from which you can either depart to arrive at a figurative destination, realism taken to the extreme which has the aim of narrating the event, or remain in the surreal area.

Let's go back to sculpture. Some years ago there was a monument signed Ganadu… what is it?

VG: Il Temerario (the Daredevil) is a figure inspired by the Nuragic bronzes. But instead of holding a shield and a lance he's holding a surfboard. At least I like to think that, even if from the figurative point of view it doesn't look 100% like one. It's a kind of stylized composition, a fusion between the man and the surfboard. This is a project close to my heart. I keep it in my case and I bring it out on my journeys. I'd like to set it up in places like Australia, Hawaii or California, where the surfboard culture came into being and has firmly taken root. There are monuments dedicated to those who fell during the war, to celebrities, to literary figures or to people who are no longer with us - but a project like mine has never been carried out. The idea is to make all surfers feel close to this figure, to this monument dedicated to the surfers.

But who is the Daredevil?

VG: It's a dream figure. Nuragic bronzes are very important figures in the history of Sardinia dating back to the archaic period. They belong to museums. At that time I was depicting warriors, the mother goddess or the earth.

And they had a mythological characteristic?

VG: Yes, they were deeply rooted in the culture of the people. They praised the earth because it nourished them, the mother goddess because she kept them alive and also the warriors who defended the village and who were a symbol of strength and courage. They were icons related to their beliefs.

When we go to see the Daredevil what do we see?

VG: It's like seeing his figure from far away, facing the ocean. The surfer and the sea are united and the Daredevil represents them both in a kind of osmosis (fusion). A surfer seen as an ideal and a way of life, and the sea seen as peace and eternity, like the perennial silence that penetrates the souls of the men who draw their strength from it. But it also expresses the desire to live with simplicity, refusing the concept of the frenetic metropolitan way of life, in order to go back to the primordial peace and silence that characterized our ancestors.

Do you have the impression that people misunderstand your pictures? Is there a way to interpret them?

VG: I'll give the same answer that I gave a friend: whatever they see is valid. Each of us interprets a picture in his own way - each person has a subjective relationship with it. I'm not concerned how people other than myself connect to it. I accept advice and criticism, which open my eyes and reduce the risk of becoming banal and repetitive. And it's for this reason that I wait 4 or 5 months before beginning to paint again - I don-t want to become a machine or an industry.

Are there pictures that mean a lot to you?

VG: More than one. I keep some with me and they simply have no price, only great sentimental value.

While you're painting do you ever realise that there is a special painting in front of you?

VG: I don't know when one comes into being, only when I can keep it. I'll give you an example. The canvas I used for Awareness was white for at least 4 years - I took it with me everywhere I went to live, Turin, Bologna, Sassari, when I travelled through France and on other journeys. It was with me all the time and I wanted to paint on it knowing that moment would be important. One day I had the courage to do it.

Was it the journey itself that you painted?

VG: Absolutely. The travelling around and longing that have been inside me for so long finally crystallized onto a canvas.

The pure air and uncontaminated nature of Sardinia, together with the fact that there are often no waves, influence the way you think of a picture?

VG: I don't know if they have an influence. But having studied and compared my vision of the island and the surfing dimension of the Mediterranean with the reality of the ocean I have come to the realization that we live in an earthly paradise. There are few of us in the water and we get so many waves that once the sea becomes calm again we're OK for a long time.

So do you think that Sardinia is still the main source of inspiration for your pictures or do you think that the ocean gives you the same input as regards your painting?

VG: It's important to travel, to meet other people from other countries, other artists, and to learn other languages and ways of presenting yourself to the public. But I don't want to belittle the importance of surfing in these waters and this is still my principal source of inspiration: my land, my friends, the colours that daily light up the waves and beaches.

Where are your pictures set?

VG: I think that each of us can set them where he wants - I don't do illustrations and my paintings can be freely interpreted. I never give a precise point of reference - I leave everything a bit like Michelangelo left his Sculture dei non finite - almost drafts. I don't want to define either a person or his surroundings. The only environment I can define is complete freedom and enormous spatiality with a background full of light. It's a spiritual freedom connected to the daring freedom of surfing communities all over the world. This can be shown by the fact I choose to start off with various shades of white, that represent freedom, tranquillity and the infinite space that surrounds us, the space we would always like to surround us.

Why has so much gratification come from abroad?

VG: I exhibited my works in Italy some time ago and it was this that made me want to face the critics abroad and put my ability to the test. Italy was only the starting point.

So where do those who want to see your work have to go?

VG: Some of my work is on exhibition at Laguna Beach at the Surf Gallery. I'm trying to get it to galleries all over the world but it isn't always easy, so the main source of reference is my site: where there is information about how to contact me and where some work not connected to surf art is shown. I usually take anybody who comes to Sardinia to Viddalba, a small village where Enrico Lodi has dedicated some space in his house to me, where there is a large collection of my paintings. It's an authentic Surf Gallery, probably the only of this kind in Italy. Enrico also collects classical longboards often signed by celebrities or champions.

I know you spent some years teaching at university. How was this experience?

VG: It was very gratifying. I left the Accademia with full marks and I went back in two years later as a teacher. I think I can say that I manage not only to produce works of art, but am also quite good at passing on my knowledge to young people like myself.

Your name is known in France, Hawaii, California and even Brazil. You've already got off at 4 important stops as regards the world surfing market. Don't you think that there's one missing?

VG: Australia… I hope that will be my next destination. But don't forget that someone over there already knows me: at Nat King's house there are 2 or 3 pieces. I'd like to do something important, an exhibition or at least spend a couple of months there because I still haven't had any physical contact with that land and I'd like to have some soon.

What I'm going to ask you would seem a banal question: what does surfing mean to you now?

VG: It continues to be my primary passion. To put it into a few words it's indispensable for me - I couldn't paint without it. Every time I'm in the water it's as if it was the first time and I have a great desire to continue because I've still so much to learn.

What does the future hold for your surf art?

VG: I've got a couple of interesting plans - how to use my work to create a production of t-shirts. At the moment I've got a catalogue that contains this dream, that doesn't only have a commercial aim but which aims at illustrating a series of pieces on show at the Surf Gallery at Laguna Beach and at showing what surfing is like in Sardinia by means of images. Roberto Ricci who has done the same thing for Italy with his firm, RRD, has encouraged me to do this.

The plans of Ganadu Creations are going ahead. What about Vincenzo Ganadu?

VG: I could say the same thing but Ganadu Creations is a kind of family, and inside it are the people who are dearest to me, from my son Joel to my wife Maria, reaching out to my collaborators and most intimate friends. I hope to continue producing and creating with the same enthusiasm. But really the important thing is to create - the rest will follow. More children for a start.

Bookmark and Share Vincenzo Ganadu & Antonio Muglia / 2006