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The Art Of David Trulli: California Subculture

Night Shift, 2008 
Ink, clay and acrylic on maso nite

Looking at David Trulli’s works in a small format like online photos, one could easily conclude these labor intensive scratchboards were mere pencil drawings, especially given they’re heavily influenced by the Zeitgeist of U.S. West Coast lowbrow underground comix, punk and hot-rod street cultures and other California countercultures like noir and neo-noir, in addition to 20th Century Big Prints.

Trulli’s scratchboard works deal with drug-altered states of mind and rejection of sexual taboos. Just as film went underground into noir then neo-noir, Trulli’s work has taken lowbrow into neo-lowbrow, though Trulli has not left the casual comix pencil behind.

MAJ: Describe your technique in creating your painstaking scratchboard works. There is a long history with the scratchboard technique?

TRULLI: I start with a wood panel, which is then coated with thin layers of a white, clay ground. When it’s dry I sand it smooth and coat it completely with black ink. This is now my “blank canvas” – a pitch-black panel. Using a pencil, I’ll sketch the big elements of the picture right on the ink. Then, using fine knives, I scratch through the ink to reveal the white underneath. Each white line you see is a scratch, made one at a time. Once a scratch is made corrections are not possible. You can re-ink a scratch, but the gouge will be visible. I try to avoid this and incorporate mistakes as I go. I like to work freehand as much as possible to keep a sense of spontaneity in the work. Afterwards a varnish is applied to add gloss, protection and increase contrast. As a medium, scratchboard goes back a few hundred years. It was a popular way for illustrators to mimic woodcuts and engravings. The strong contrast looked good in newspapers and pulp novels, where cheap paper was used. As a fine-art medium its use is somewhat rare.

MAJ: How did you learn of scratchboard art?

TRULLI: I was first introduced to scratchboard in a high school beginning art course. We worked in various media, one of which was scratchboard. I took to it right away and vowed to try it again. Years later I finally did! I’ve always been attracted to woodcuts and engravings. Once you add in my love of black and white photography, and cinematography, then scratchboard becomes almost inevitable.

MAJ: What made you leave cinematography for scratchboard art?

TRULLI: As a cinematographer one always has to deal with restrictions, whether it’s time, money or the setting sun. Working as an artist I was freed from the confines of the physical world. If I wanted to draw a very high angle view I could do so without the need for a crane or helicopter. Even the laws of physics can be bent and reshaped when you draw a picture. I was used to working within the limits of a strained film budget but while drawing none of that mattered. This liberation was energizing! Many of the best parts of the job were the same for me as an artist – composition, angle of view, etc. Perhaps the reason I enjoy scratchboard is that it is much like lighting a film set: it starts out black and you add light. Almost by accident, I showed one of my scratchboards to a gallery and the response was good. Later, acting on faith, I decided to pursue my individual art and left cinematography altogether. As an artist alone in my studio I become producer, writer, director and cinematographer all in one. When complete, I am the only one responsible for these pictures. I like that.

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