Meet

Trina Turturici

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I was born in San Jose, CA. I moved to a suburb of Sacramento in 1990 and I spent the majority of my childhood there until I moved to Long Beach for college in 2004. I currently live in South Pasadena and my studio is nearby in City Terrace which is a neighborhood on the Eastside of Los Angeles.
What’s your favorite part of living there?
I love the east side of LA because it’s a bit grittier and more down to earth than the west side. It feels more accessible and the cost of living is lower so many artists and musicians live here. There’s so much art and music begin cultivated in the area that it’s almost overwhelming. Where people choose to live in LA typically depends on where they work because the traffic issue is real, but I also think what neighborhood a person lives in shows where their priorities lie. I don’t care about the beach, so I don’t mind living far away from the coast. I just need a place to sleep and a place to work. I’m willing to sacrifice comfort for the a place to paint.

My favorite part of LA is the fact the city hasn’t quite completely taken over nature. I often see coyotes running through the streets along with skunks and opossums. We have packs of wild parrots flying around and I can hear the mating calls of peacocks early in the morning. It’s funny to hear coyotes howling at night along with helicopters flying overhead, and in the morning my main complaint is the horrendous screeches of the wild parrots instead of the lawn mowers.

The plant life is also pretty incredible and that’s where so much of my inspiration comes from. The succulents and cacti look like they come from another planet. The other day I saw a bunch of grapes growing on a vine through my neighbor’s fence above my dumpster and some tomatoes were growing in a parking lot behind a restaurant. Stuff just grows here without any effort!

What necessities do you require when making your art?
My studio is in a large warehouse that is divided into several spaces and the walls do not go all the way up to the ceiling. That means sound travels and I can be easily distracted. I prefer working with my headphones on and sometimes in complete silence. Wearing headphones helps me focus especially when working long hours in the studio.

I often switch between listening to music and podcasts. The task I’m working on dictates the kind of music I listen too. If I’m intensely invested in a painting and at a moment where decisions need to be made I need to listen to music that’s at a medium tempo that’s not too intense or too slow. Usually it’s krautrock, electronic, or some kind of jangly garage rock. If I’m doing something labor intensive or prepping materials I’ll listen to a comedy podcast or something that makes me want to dance. Music is a huge influence on my practice. I can hear the layers and textures within music and it gives me ideas for new marks and color combinations.

I have a specific way that my studio is organized. I have my paint cart with a glass palette, next to that is another cart that holds my mineral spirits and my paint brushes. I have a pile of paper towels next to my brushes where I frequently wipe them off between colors. I’m constantly cleaning and scraping my palette so my scraper rests directly next to my brushes. I also have a specific order that I lay my colors on the palette and as I mix colors I order them from warm to cool and dark to light. I’m very organized. I know where everything is and I rarely leave stuff on the floor. I must have a clear space to move around my painting. If there’s too much of a mess around me I feel anxious and distracted but I also need to have the freedom to make a mess. My studio is constantly going through cycles of messy and clean.

How does your choice of color inform the final piece?
Color is what excites me and it’s my favorite aspect of painting. I use color as a way to challenge myself and keep myself engaged. I often begin a painting with a certain color because the painting I finished before lacked that color or because I used the color in a previous painting and want to use it to explore other possible color combinations. Color is so powerful and it never ceases to amaze me. I spend more time mixing color than I actually spend putting paint on the canvas. I have a tendency to gravitate towards certain color combinations so recently I try to catch myself before I start reaching for that color that I would ordinarily choose and instead I try to choose a color that seems completely wrong. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s a lot of fun.
Slant
Music is a huge influence on my practice. I can hear the layers and textures within music and it gives me ideas for new marks and color combinations. — Trina Turturici
How do you choose your materials?
I’m a very hands-on, tactile person so I like to use materials that are easily manipulated by hand with minimal tools. I prefer wet, flowing materials like paint and ink. Using a brush feels very natural to me. I’ve recently gotten into paper mâché pulp because it can be molded into any shape and I love the squishiness of it. I can also paint on top of it so it’s the perfect combination of painting and sculpture.
Describe a typical day in the studio for you.
A perfect studio day would begin with some exercise and stretching in the morning. That doesn’t happen as often as I’d like but it helps wake me up and clear my mind. I will then pack myself a few meals or pick up food for the day. I don’t like to leave the studio once I’m there but I do take breaks.

I always come to the studio in my regular, everyday clothes and change into my studio attire which are comfortable clothes that I don’t mind getting dirty. It makes me feel like I’m putting on a uniform.

I spend time cleaning up from the day before and making space for what I’m about to work on. There may be some prep involved. I need to get buckets of water, mix colors, cut paper, clean my palette, hang some drawings, shuffle some paintings around, stretch a canvas, etc… Sometimes I’m absorbed in one painting and work on it for days in a row. Other times I need to let a painting dry and start a new one. I always have multiple paintings going at once along with a few sculptures because it keeps me engaged. If I find that I’m repeating myself, losing focus, or getting frustrated I switch up the medium. Sometimes I make collages with old drawings and paintings, or I make paper mache sculptures, but I always come back to drawing. Drawing is the foundation of my practice. If I ever feel stuck or stale I will spend a few days just drawing.

I usually spend about 4 - 8 hours in the studio depending on the day. After a long day of painting I scrape my palette and wrap my brushes in a plastic bag so they don’t dry up. I only wash them once every few weeks. I clean up a bit and change back into my regular clothes then I take a photo of the paintings I worked on with my phone. I look at them at night when I’m laying in bed and try to figure out what my next move will be.

How do you think reviewing your work through a screen affects your decision making?
I always want my work to look better in person. I will never change the way I paint because of how it looks on screen. In fact, I think screens have made me a better painter. I think more about the surface and quality of the painting and what impact it will make when someone looks at one of my paintings on the screen versus when they are standing in front of it. When I study one of my paintings on my phone, my main focus is the composition. Looking at a large painting on a tiny screen helps me better see the painting as a whole. I do a lot of painting in my head so having a photo of my painting helps me visualize and plan.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I first fell in love with painting through figuration. I had a very traditional art education and primarily painted from life. I learned so much about color and form and I’m so thankful for my education but I started to feel trapped in a genre that I no longer wanted to be in. I also felt that I wasn’t painting in my own style and instead was adhering to what my professors taught me. After grad school I broke away from the figure and started developing my own process and style. I had to learn to forget what had been ingrained in my head and let myself be free. I eventually moved away from representation into full abstraction but now I’m pulling the figure back in. This time I’m doing it my own way and at times it’s not initially apparent. I’m still searching for the perfect balance that feels true to my vision.
Slant
Looking at a large painting on a tiny screen helps me better see the painting as a whole. I do a lot of painting in my head so having a photo of my painting helps me visualize and plan. — Trina Turturici
What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
I use the shapes of ordinary objects and landscapes that I see in my daily life as a way to explore materials through working intuitively. Blurred edges, broken shapes, transparency, and texture, work together to suggest landscape, portrait, figure, and object. My playful approach to the figure-ground relationship creates a vibration and tension within the space of the painting. The eye makes connections and fills in the space between broken lines and shapes and creates imagery. I intend to paint with a certain amount of specificity but I also only give enough information to retain mystery and openness.

The main themes within my work are memory, perception, and the passage of time. The way I interpret the dynamic nature of these themes is through gesture and mark making. I have developed certain moves and motifs that I use intuitively to represent these themes. Curved lines and shapes are airwaves, vibrations, or represent transitions. I use layers of transparency and texture to show the passage of time. Shapes overlap each other suggesting objects and figures moving through space. Smudges, blurs, and dots of paint also suggest movement or transition.

Our past experiences affect how we perceive the present which means the way we perceive the world is constantly changing. I’m not going to tell the viewer what to see or how to see it. I want to give them enough information to create their own story or theory about what it means to them.

How important is spontaneity in your art?
I’ve learned that if I have too much time to think about something I end up making a mistake or overworking it. The results are better and more interesting when I shut off my brain and simply let myself react without focusing on the outcome. I’ve had to develop processes that allow for spontaneity and chance to occur throughout the development of a painting. When I start a new painting I’ll lay the canvas flat and cover it with a series of marks - sometimes they’re big sweeping lines, sometimes they’re dots, or I’ll use a rag to soak up the paint to make a texture. Then I cover the canvas with pieces of paper that I’ve cut into various sizes and shapes. I paint over the exposed canvas and repeat the process. When I remove the papers a surprise image appears. I will sometimes lean the painting on the wall and paint back into it if I’ve made the decision on the composition. Other times I’ll lay it flat again and repeat the process with the paper shapes.

I like to compare my painting process to playing sports and improv comedy. I’m a fan of both! 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. I believe there’s a powerful connection between our bodies and minds that we underestimate.

When I paint I think about the “yes and” aspect of improv comedy. I make a mark and I say yes to it and I use it to make something new and unexpected. It also sums up my overall attitude on life. The world provides so much material. Everyday I see curious things that delight me. It’s a very optimistic outlook that helps me cope with carrying on with the mundane aspects of everyday life.

Slant
My playful approach to the figure-ground relationship creates a vibration and tension within the space of the painting. The eye makes connections and fills in the space between broken lines and shapes and creates imagery. I intend to paint with a certain amount of specificity but I also only give enough information to retain mystery and openness. — Trina Turturici
What’s an example of something curious that you might find delightful on a given day?
The shadow of a chain-link fence on the sidewalk, a piñata hanging in a store window, the contour of a succulent in my neighbour’s yard, multiple layers of paint that don’t quite match on a graffitied wall, sun-bleached buildings, bathroom tile, faux marble finish, a hand-painted sign at a taco stand, palm trees, an abandoned bike wheel chained to a pole, smog, a sign post covered in layers of ripped band posters, a stranger fixing their hair in the reflection of a window, sea shells, drought-tolerant gardens, a truck carrying loads of old mattresses and shopping carts, etc.
Why did you choose to work as a painter?
I have always worked with paint. When I was a kid I mostly used colored markers, watercolors, and acrylic paint but in sixth grade my mom gave me her set of oil paints and let me use them for a school project. I painted an imagined landscape described in a book I read. It was a pond with hills of wildflowers behind it. It wasn’t very good. I found oil paint to be really hard to use but I loved the smell and the feel of the buttery paint. I didn’t use oil paint again until college and that’s when I really got hooked. I was originally a Graphic Design major but switched to painting after quickly learning that I hated being on the computer all the time.
How long were you studying Graphic Design? Do you see any influences of Graphic Design in your painting practice or in your life broadly?
I studied Graphic Design for about 2 years. I definitely still use the skills I learned in my everyday life and my painting practice. The main thing that comes to mind is being aware that there’s a hierarchy of information within a design. If I’m making a sign for an event, for example, I need to decide what information should be read first, then second, and so on. The most important thing would be the who or what, then when, and where, etc. That knowledge can be translated into painting. The interesting part about painting is that I can decide what’s the most important thing and if I’m successful I can create a path for the viewer to move through the painting using my own maneuvers. The painting will have its own logic and language so there’s no finite way to order the information.
Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?
I’m hugely influenced by music. I wanted to be a musician when I was younger but visual art came more naturally to me. I’m actually jealous of what musicians can do. I often use words that describe music to describe my work; rhythm, layers, texture, tempo, movement, harmony, repetition, etc… Come to think of it, I’d prefer using music to describe my work rather than words.
Slant
The interesting part about painting is that I can decide what’s the most important thing and if I’m successful I can create a path for the viewer to move through the painting using my own maneuvers. The painting will have its own logic and language so there’s no finite way to order the information. — Trina Turturici

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