Soon after Alex Turco founded Artistic Surfaces in 2009, he started getting calls from Naples design pros at Collins DuPont and EBL Partners. The designers recognized Turco’s waterproof panels—with their sinuous, glossy surfaces—were ideal for Gulf-side homes in need of heavy-duty, highly customizable design that stands up to the elements while satisfying discerning clients seeking something no one else has.
Turco aims to remove barriers to art, allowing it to exist and be interacted with everywhere. It all started in 2006 with a stay at Milan’s Nhow hotel. “I realized the lack of art in these beautiful bathrooms,” the Italian-born craftsman recalls. “I immediately had the idea to create waterproof paintings. Then, a moment later, I said to myself, ‘Why do they have to be paintings? They can be whole walls.’”
Of course, damp conditions inherent to a bathroom are far more hostile to art than the pristine conditions found in a museum. After much research, Turco started using composite aluminum boards, which he now molds into panels, columns and backsplashes fit for any indoor or outdoor space.
The panels provide an ideal canvas for the artist, who grew up in Northeast Italy’s Friuli region with a photographer father. “My toys were acrylic colors, markers, pencils and the camera,” he says. “My dad and I spent a lot of time in his studio and outside in contact with nature, from the sea to the mountains.”
Many of Turco’s panels start with photographs that either he or his father have taken over the years. “The jellyfish and Buddhas are mine,” he says. “The geodes are photos my father took with his Minolta about 30 years ago.” Working by hand, Turco layers on acrylic paint and epoxy resin, infused with metallic pigments, powders, semi-precious minerals, glitter, sand and other substances. “That is the beauty; we can incorporate any material,” he says. Most of the graphics reference nature or natural systems.
Since launching Artistic Surfaces, which is based in Miami and Milan, Turco has centered his craft around collaborating with interior designers. “I have always been passionate about design and architecture, and when I started to take my artistic project seriously, I wanted to turn to interior designers and not to galleries,” he explains. Every panel is made-to-measure, with designers sending renderings, dimensions, tile samples and paint swatches to serve as jumping-off points for the art. “They integrate my work in the same way they select or design a sofa or a kitchen,” he explains.
While the pieces feel finite and substantial enough for yachts and estates, the material is much lighter than marble or glass, which makes it easier to ship and install. “They weigh a pound per square foot, more or less,” Turco says. “They are flexible and very easy to install … and the resin we use is very elastic and does not crack.”
And unlike Rothkos and Pollocks, these works are made to withstand the perils that come with active households—including curious children and touchy party guests. “Similar products don’t have the same broad applicability that Alex Turco does,” says Audrey Healey of EBL, which has been working with Turco for more than a decade.
Local clients—which also include Collins Dupont, Romanza Interior Design, Renée Gaddis Interiors and Luxe Surface Design—appreciate how personal they can get with the panels. Homeowners can provide photographs or graphics for Turco to work off, though he always adds his creative touch. “We don’t just like to do a normal picture with resin on top,” he says. Instead, he edits the images in Photoshop and then layers on color, dimension and movement by hand.
While much of the work in Southwest Florida has centered on residential projects, Turco’s panels are also sought out for commercial spaces. His art greets vacationers at getaways like the AKA hotel in New York and Amari Hotel in Thailand. Shoppers at chic destinations—such as Fendi in New York, Louis Vuitton in Hangzhou and the Peter Marino-designed Christian Dior boutique in Vienna—brush up against his agate-inspired panels, examine handbags beneath his otherworldly ceilings and slide their AMEXes over his nature-inspired countertops.
Though he’s always had a curiosity for merging art and architecture, it wasn’t until 2009, during an interview with a journalist, that he christened himself an “art designer.” Naturally, being self-proclaimed isn’t going to limit his vision for living with art to architectural elements. At last year’s Art Basel, Turco launched OnlyOne, a line of functional art objects, including tables, bookcases and sculptural surfboards, inspired by nature. “OnlyOne is my baby; it is the consecration of my artistic and personal life,” he says.
Between collaborating on panels, designing furniture and crisscrossing the globe, Turco doesn’t have a lot of free time. But in those few silent moments that come right before the plane lands or the 10 minutes between phone calls, he likes to think of new ways to break down barriers between his art and the audience. “The mood board is my mind. I design and create everything, first thinking about it … I collect inspirations and ideas, and then I start creating the work from life,” he says.