March Mostra 2016/ Meet the artists… Damien Duffy

Over the next few days we will be introducing you in turn to the six resident artists who will be exhibiting in the March Mostra on Friday 18 March. With under one week to go, we spoke to Damien Duffy in his studio to find out more about him and his work.

Damien Duffy (Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow)


Damien Duffy’s work continues here with a thread of appropriation of landmark works, in order to engage new readings. Previous re-makings include Duchamp’s Large Glass and The Citizen by Richard Hamilton; a ventriloquism which in this instance uses the work of Cy Twombly. This piece casts a disenchanted eye on the privileging of the poetic over the political. Paired with lines from the poem ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ by C P Cavafy it alludes to contemporary events in the Mediterranean.

Your opening project here is focusing on the work of the American/Italian artist Cy Twombly.

As a critique of Twombly, his paintings have a very luxurious and poetic quality. What I’ve been interested in while I’m here is trying to pick apart is this luxurious, poetic nature of his work.

Twombly made a series of paintings of a sea battle entitled Lepanto inspired by the battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire – a lot of his work deals with Mediterranean mythology and the migration from Syria and Greece over to Italy and the transferred myth. My work is accounting for that, so all the poetry has been evacuated from that. It reduces the images down to the black and white of a receipt and the title of the piece is Sea Ghost Audit so there is also an illusion to an audit of what is currently going on in the Mediterranean, using Twombly’s de-poeticised imagery.

Twombly’s Lepanto was all made on a large scale: three metres by two metres. My original idea was to make one big canvas with all the images from Lepanto superimposed onto it. Conversations I had here while in the early stages of making it led to stopping that as the artwork started taking a sense of elegance in its own right. That is something that is probably fed out of the experience of Rome. You come here [Rome] with a set of ideas but the city permeates into you in a different way, at first you are overwhelmed with the former grandeur and the elegant melancholic nature of the architecture and art. If you look at some of the artwork, like the frescoes from Livia’s Garden in Palazzo Massimo, the painting is almost heartbreakingly beautiful. That then tends to condition how you start to perceive where your work might sit within the broader contemporary spectrum against the context of a bigger historical spectrum as well.

The gain from being here is a sense of over-sight; you are in a city that ties everything together. Particularly within the BSR, you are given the privilege of living in an environment that is saturated with culture and full of other artists and scholars leading to a very privileged overview. It gives you opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have as you are not in Rome as a tourist. You are here as a researcher and you have this experience that is a subversion of tourism, consumed in a different way.

Do you think your use of Cy Twombly’s work has been different because you have been living in the same place that he did?

Definitely, I think that the work takes on a different and particular pertinence given that it has been made here; it casts a disenchanted eye upon Twombly’s practice in order to try and deal with the current migration of refugees from wars in the Middle East and Africa.

It has also led to other ideas as well, as a consequence of that. This is a body of work that extends beyond a set of appropriations. I have worked on a Duchamp piece, a Richard Hamilton piece, this is a Twombly piece. There is potentially yet another appropriation piece that has come out of this which I have just thought about in the making of this work. But there is also a new body of ideas that have extended from my response to being here in Rome, and it is not necessarily a response to the place as a geographical location. Living within the BSR gives you an affirmation of the value of what you are doing that shifts it to another level, which is nice!

You talk about the Palazzo Massimo. Do you think it is the immersive nature of the decoration in Livia’s Garden Room that draws you in? Is this something you are intending to replicate in your work or is the larger scale of your piece, emulating a wall fresco painting, a coincidence?

This specific piece of work is framed by the project proposal that I applied with. After the first few weeks of being here I was reticent about continuing with it, however, taking the time to think about what I will do made me realise that this is still a valid piece of work to make and that in the making of it, it has changed and has brought on a new sense of elegance. The fact that this is in line with the scale and immersiveness of Livia’s wall paintings is coincidental but the wall paintings have a grandeur and level of decoration, complete with darker elements, that is almost characteristic of Rome, which has undoubtedly fed into my work.

Do you have anything else to add about Rome?

The city: there is a particular elegance to the place, and even though it is a capital, it has a very relaxed tempo that is very conducive to introspection. It seems almost like it has been like this throughout the history of the city.

In the first few weeks here I saw one visual that was completely characteristic of the collation of all the layers. We were walking back from getting a pizza after seeing a gallery show and we were walking down a set of steps between two apartment blocks near the colosseum. On the stairs there was a group of Ethiopian guys hanging out and chatting, you could tell this was a place they were very comfortable in. They were all sitting around with a mobile phone that was playing Mahler, you know the classical music. You just got this feeling that you were in this eternal city and there was the evidence of migratory populations sitting together listening to this nineteenth century Romantic music on a mobile phone – this scene just kind of nailed it for me, I just thought that really characterised the place.

You have spoken a lot about a sense of elegance that you feel has come from Rome. Is this something that is different to the work you were producing in Ireland?

Yes I think so because in the context of Ireland, and being Irish in the UK there is a political element that always shadows your work. Now that’s not to say that all the work I had produced before coming here was political but even trying to move away from that, the decisions that you make are almost political themselves.  Coming out of that context you get this cultural saturation, more often than not my work is characterised by what I don’t allow myself to do. So being with the context of Rome there are new elements that I will allow myself to do, this stems from the ambient elegance of Rome.


Damien’s work will be exhibited alongside the other five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 19 March until Friday 25 March 2016.

Photo by Antonio Palmieri