John Culqui is a talented California surfer/artist who creates fresh, colorful paintings that depict the stoke of surfing. Originally trained as an architect, John combines his love for surfing and the fluid use of lines and color to create memorable images. We spoke with John to learn more.
What was life like growing up?
I grew up in Lennox California. I’m first generation American. My family emigrated from Ecuador in the late 60’s and early 70’s and I grew up in what I would like to think a pretty epic time (mid-to-late 70’s and early 80’s). It was full of iconic TV shows like Charlie’s Angels, SWAT, The Six Million Dollar Man, and with movies like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jaws. We were outside a lot – going to the beach, finding a dirt lot to ride our bikes, making jumps out of my dad’s scrap pieces of ply and skateboarding. It was pretty awesome.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I got my first board at the ripe old age of 38 which was this past March. I ride an 8’ Anderson fun board and it is a lot of fun. I’m relatively new to surfing and up until five years ago I really had never surfed. I have always been a bodyboarder so the knowledge of how to catch a wave was the only foundation I had. My friend Mike Schoen, who is an awesome surfer, got me into longboarding and the whole aesthetic of it, so when we would go out I would use one of his.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
It was pretty surreal. I remember it being very quiet and very calm. That is until the stoke kicked in and I was in. It was awesome.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a doctor. I have been an asthmatic since the age of five so I wanted to help others that had asthma. To my mother’s great disappointment, I went off to school to become an architect.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young?
I grew up admiring my parents for their creativity and artistry. My dad is a jeweler and does some amazing pieces. To him it has always been his job, but he is a true master. My mother was a seamstress. She could make an outfit for whatever event we had, pretty much in one day. I’m talking about starting from the pattern and all.
Where did you study painting?
I’m self taught. I can’t remember a time not drawing, coloring, or building things. After high school, I went to Woodbury University and studied architecture. When I graduated I knew that I wouldn’t be designing right away so in order to stay creative and keep my ability to design I took up painting. That was 14 years ago. My style has evolved a since when I started, but the heavy lines that seem to separate and organize it all have always been a constant. I believe they stem from my education in architecture.
What is your process when creating your art?
I would have to say it depends on what I’m working on at the present moment, but I try to keep it simple. Painting to me is very therapeutic so I try to focus on what I want out of each session. With that said, I usually have 3 or more paintings going on the same time – again staying focused is a challenge. My wife says it’s all the parties going on in my head.
I paint in our living room most of the time unless I’m sanding, spraying or sealing something. Then I go to the garage and paint at night or the early hours of the morning. I chalk it up to my years in architecture school with the all-nighters; they really messed with my sleeping pattern. I have to have some sort of background noise, so I’ll usually have the TV on with something that I can enjoy listening to and not necessarily have to watch. Music works great too, but for some reason it slows me down – crazy right?
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
I have been very fortunate to have traveled not only here in the States but abroad, too. If I had to pick one place it would have to be Italy. No particular city, but just as a whole I think it’s a pretty cool place.
What “Golden Rule” do you live by?
I would have to go with the original one… treat others like you would like to be treated.
Who/what inspires you?
It’s a pretty unique list but here it goes:
My wife Stacee inspires me to be a kinder and happier person. My son Peter inspires me to keep imagining and that your age is only a number. My friend Mike inspires me to be a better surfer.
And my family inspires me to push forward, to stay the course and never to forget where I came from.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
I would have to say that it’s to enjoy life. I know sometimes it can be tough and seem unfair, but I I try to focus on the good more than the bad.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
In regards to life in general no. I truly believe things happen for a reason. If I had to choose one thing is that I wish I had started surfing much sooner. But things happen for a reason. Perhaps if I had gotten into it earlier on who’s to say if I would even still be surfing. I do know now that it is something that I will do for the rest of my life.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of where my painting has gone in the last few years. Getting into surfing I started to look at my painting in whole different way. It use to be rigid and dark, and now it’s fun and active. People that come to my shows or view my art online say that it reminds them of their surfing experience. To be able to connect with people through my work makes me feel that I’m hitting the mark.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing to me has become such a big deal. There is a life to it that just by saying the word “surfing” it makes one feel active and alive. I’m glad I got into it when I did, so I can truly appreciate what it for what is. I love learning about not only the style or aesthetic of surfing but also the craft. For example, who was the shaper of this particular board? What were the specifics of how, and for what reasons was this board was shaped?
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
My wife Stacee and our kids, I do what I do for them. I feel no matter how big or small, it is important to leave a legacy behind. Something that they know was made with them in mind.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
I feel that Barry Haun and everyone at the Surfing Heritage Foundation in San Clemente are a vital element to the enrichment and education of the history of surfing and the progression over the years.
When it comes to riders, I would have to say Rob Machado, Tyler Warren and Tyler Hatzikian. They bring this passion and style to surfing that even if you don’t surf, just watching them makes you want to get out there. Their effortless style is humbling and inspiring at the same time. And I think it’s awesome that Warren and Hatzikian both shape and surf their own boards. They are both like a modern day Howard Hughes.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
My 8’ fun board is my one and only right now, but I do have my eye on a Tyler 305 and maybe when I grow up a Tyler Noserider. As far as spots go, I would have to say the Cliffs in Huntington Beach.
What’s your favorite meal?
It’s a toss up (no pun intended)… pizza and Mexican any day of the week – and twice on Sundays. Straight up pepperoni on the pizza and beef taquitos with a lil’ green sauce, hits the spot every time. Alejandros on Placentia and 19th in Costa Mesa is pretty awesome.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
All kids of stuff: Jack Johnson, Ray Barbee, Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews, Green Day, G-Love, Tristan Prettyman, Donovan Frankenreiter, ALO, Snow Patrol, Coldplay, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Vampire Weekend, Rodrigo y Gabriella, REM, Eagles, STYX, Johnny Cash… we could be here forever. I grew up with music always being on so I always need to have my music.
What causes/ projects/ organizations do you support?
I support All at Once and Surfing Heritage Foundation.
What’s next for John Culqui?
I was asked by Tyler Surfboards to design some t-shirts for them that would depict both the style of Tyler Surfboards and the area they are in. They are also exhibiting some original art work that I generated specifically for the shop again with their style and area in mind. I have been a big fan of Tyler for some time now I would like to think that if I had never watch Single Fin Yellow I wouldn’t be surfing today, so needless to say I was pretty stoked when they asked.
In regards to my surfing, I hope to get more time out in the brine so I can continue learning and developing as a surfer. In respects to my painting, its development is also very important. I want to continue generating and exhibiting work that I’m proud of and create work that has soul.
Find out more about John Culqui and his artwork here.