Art Study: How running out of air inspired a series of wave paintings

Italian artist Nicola Di Liegro paints. He paints abstract murals and canvases and caught our eye due to his refreshing take on waves. The art looks nothing like the airbrushed tropical fantasy we’ve come to expect from the surf art world. Instead, it’s abstract, textured and a bit industrial. Like his art, Nicola’s description of creating is refreshing as well. He describes the process as “traveling and exploring the folds of my magical brain.” Nicola admits that the process of self-discovery was nurtured during Italy’s severe lockdown period last year at which time he pontificated about being a fish, an anemone, an octopus, any integral part of the liquid ecosystem. And, yes, we agree that’s quite trippy.

Living in Gaeta, a coastal town smack dab between Rome and Naples, Nicola says he also draws inspiration from being thrashed around by the surf. Italy has a history of wave pool projects and waves, whether salted or not, are what inspired his series of paintings simply called “Ondas.”

Tell us about yourself and your art influences
My name is Nicola and I am from a small medieval town by the seaside in central Italy. This the place I always return to after traveling for work around Italy, Europe and Florida. It was easy to understand from an early age what fascinated me: painting, art, drawings, creativity in general and everything that revolves around the creative process of work. 

When I was 13 and the time came to choose which type of high school to attend, there was no question, I wanted to go to art school. But unfortunately, there was no family support and I had to settle for the commercial technical institute (accounting). In 1998 I got my high school degree and I had to choose once again how to continue my studies, my determination was strong and despite the job offers in the commercial/economic field, I refused everything, instead studying as a cartoonist / illustrator at the International School of Comics in Rome. After earning my three-year diploma, I moved to Milan to study at the European Institute of Design. During those years of study I worked hard to pay the cost of fees, train travels, lunches, dinners, etc … it was not easy, but everything served to strengthen my determination to achieve my dreams. I worked as a waiter, lifeguard, bricklayer, bouncer, gardener, in order to continue drawing. In short, I worked my ass off so as not to passively accept a boring job that I would not have liked. 

For me, painting means freedom, pleasure, love, concentration and introspection, a sort of meditation. It means traveling and exploring the folds of my magical brain. It is not just a technical gesture or knowing how to choose the right brush and the right percentage of color dilution, it is self-awareness and empathy towards others, for me to create is to share a feeling of joy with the viewer who looks at my works. Certainly here where I live it is not easy to be an artist, but with determination and commitment you can make a difference, you can make your dreams come true and you can even be an example for others. 

Happiness is not becoming rich and famous, but doing what makes us feel good and allows us to express ourselves better, to bring positivity to the community in which we live, starting with our families. I am enthusiastic about the awareness I have reached today. Also thanks to the lockdown, I understand who I am and what I am capable of, and that I do not depend on the opinion of others. I do not depend on the judgment of others. I am a happy artist. The challenges are always there, of all kinds, I think they are fundamental in some ways, and they are a training path, even those that apparently have nothing to do with painting. Everything that has happened to me in the past, and that will surely happen in the future, contributes to consolidating what since 2005 I have called AboutNDL, my brand, my brand that encompasses painting, clothing, design. 

Your work has a wonderful metallic feel, where does this come from? 
A few years ago (around 2012) I wanted to participate in an exhibition that celebrated the 25th anniversary of an exhibition organized by the “Pinacoteca” gallery in my city. The theme was the sea. I had only one goal: not to do something trivial. I was constantly puzzling, thinking about the sea, how to re-purpose it again and reproduce it … but I couldn’t think of anything good, I was too conditioned by everything that was already around, a conglomeration of topics and things that revolve around the sea: fishermen, surfers, fishing boats, ships, explorers, nature, movies. It was too much, and everything was already done! 

Then I began to think about what the sea was for me, what moved inside me, what memories it stirred, what emotions it gave me. I went back and examined my true relationship with the sea, a vital element for my growth as if I were a fish, an anemone, an octopus… an integral part of that liquid ecosystem.

While something was starting to take shape in my mind, it was still nothing definite. Then one evening that summer, just before falling asleep, listening to music and staring at the ceiling, I created the first wave “The Pipe.” The next morning I went down to the garage, recovered some wooden boards left over from the previous job, sand, glue and cans of paint already open that a friend had given me. In “The Pipe” I tapped those same emotions I feel when I go surfing, you know, when you manage to enter the pipe when the wave throws you under and you don’t have enough air. When you are in the washing machine and it is dark underneath but then you orient yourself and surface like a submarine, take a breath and everything shines again. The sea is a fair and impartial element, no favoritism. If you want to try to keep pace you have to paddle, if you want to understand it you have to be the water. 

The gloss, alternating with the opacity of the paintings, is given by a combination of materials such as wood, sand, glue, acrylic colors and synthetic enamels, applied according to the degree of absorbency of the materials and levels to accentuate the depth of the work. They are enhanced by light, whether natural or artificial, which increases the visual perception of volumes, shadows, reflections on the water and the depth of the sea. All this is to establish a feeling of empathic connection between user and work, between user and nature. 

You can find more of Nicola’s work on his website here or follow him on Instagram @aboutndl_art.