As we approach the June Mostra, our third and final Mostra of the academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The first artist-in-focus is Sinta Tantra, this year’s Bridget Riley Fellow, who reflects on the last three months which have formed the second half of her residency.
Sinta Tantra describes her work as ‘painting on an architectural scale’, creating works that celebrate the spectacle, questioning the decorative, functional and social role of art. The compositional arrangements are rooted in formalism, when private becomes public and when the viewer becomes active. Her work is an ‘overlay’ of colour which inserts its identity within pre-existing spaces – heightening a sense of fantasy within a functional context.
In your interview before the March Mostra, you said that looking forward to the next three months (April-June) you would like to work on a public art project. Has that plan come to fruition, and if so, how?
Yes, the first term was more about getting to know the city and settling into studio life here in Rome and at the BSR. The last three months have been about trying to create a public artwork outside of the studio. I knew I wanted to create a public art piece, but I wasn’t sure what form it would take.
Since the last interview, I have been given a fantastic opportunity to create the flag for the Palio di Siena. The drappellone flag is the winning flag for the Palio horse race which happens twice a year and has been a tradition since medieval times. It happens in Siena, so I’ve been spending quite a bit of time there – trying to understand the culture of Palio, how it affects the people, and what the drappellone truly means to a Sienese. The drapellone is very much an artwork for the city and the people.
I know that the work you’re doing on the drappellone is top-secret, but could you tell me how this project marks a change from the way you usually work – whether in the materials you’ve been using or with the restrictions on your work, having a criteria to fill with the drappellone design?
It’s not unusual in the sense that I often work with commissioners — developing ideas ‘inside out’, consulting and seeing which direction they would like to move forward. What is different is what the artwork symbolises. It feels a bit like stepping into the shoes of a medieval or Renaissance artist — not only does it have its function for the horse race, but it also a religious object. I have to include figurative elements such as the Virgin Madonna of the Assumption — quite a challenge for an abstract geometric artist such as myself! I also need to include a dedication on the flag — this year, the dedication is to Giovanni Duprè, a sculptor born in Siena, marking 200 years since his birth.
The response I’ve had from the public has been pretty overwhelming, and they’ve not even seen the artwork yet! I’m already getting social media messages from people saying how much they’re looking forward to seeing the flag and meeting me in Siena.
And how do the differences between Rome and Siena impact on your work?
I think Siena has been quite good for me — it’s smaller in scale, and it’s a much friendlier city than Rome. Working on the Palio has meant that I’ve been able to meet more Italians in a more relaxed, natural environment, seeing how they live in their community — that has been quite inspirational. It’s quite difficult to find those real communities in Rome. In Siena, I was lucky enough to visit the contrade and the communities that run them and witness how important they are. The contrada is a meeting place, a social place, a hub where activities happen.
Since the March Mostra, have you noticed a difference in your work, and what are the most significant changes?
That’s quite difficult to answer because three months is a quite short timeframe. I think, overall, I would say the colours in my work are far more heightened. Living in Rome and living in Italy, you’re far more aware of seasons — I’ve always been inspired by the light, sky, colours — how they convey feelings and meanings. Those senses are intensified living in Italy — parks turning lush, green, colourful, the smells of flowers. There’s an awareness of change, and you can’t help but reflect that change in your work somehow. I’m not so afraid of colour combinations that a few months ago I would have avoided – I’ve become braver about colour ‘clashing’.
In your last interview, you said that one of the things that influences you here is the vibrancy, the peacocking, and the idea of being seen to be seen. Have these elements continued to inspire or influence your work, or have you found any other aspects of the atmosphere in Rome that you have taken on board and that you have used in your work?
Yes: with the changing seasons and warmer weather and longer evenings, that peacocking and display of confidence plays out a lot longer. I think a lot of Italy feels like a theatre, in the architecture and spaces in the city – whether in Rome or Siena – everything becomes part of a drama or play — it’s quite fun seeing that.
In the March Mostra, the piece you showed was The Piranesi Effect, which referenced the Piranesi prints you worked with in the BSR archive. Have you continued to use either the resources within the BSR or beyond in other academies or libraries in Rome, and if so, how?
I found out that there was a sculpture by Duprè in storage in the Gallery next door [Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna], and as the drappellone needs to commemorate Giovanni Duprè, I was eager to see it. It was incredible to have gained access to that through the BSR, because it would otherwise have been quite difficult to see. In other libraries, I have had access to papers and books about Duprè, and I’ve also been reading into Siena and how it was an important city as part of the silk trade, and so it’s been interesting to see how these cities played a role commercially, economically and visually.
With four new artists joining us this term, whose work is quite different from the artists we had from January-March, do you find that you work differently being surrounded by new people who work differently?
Yes, it’s always fascinating meeting new people and seeing how they make work and their practice. One of the artists I’ve been inspired by here is Gary: we both create public artwork, but we approach it in incredibly different ways. I admire his sculptures — immediate, slightly guerrilla-style and inspired by the city. His work appeals to not just art-lovers but the general public too. He created a sculpture just opposite the school in Villa Borghese. I witnessed how people fell in love with it. It’s quite inspirational to see how public art can have such an effect on people, especially in a city like Rome. There are a lot of public artworks in the city, especially sculptures, but there aren’t many contemporary or temporary artworks. Temporary artworks make people engage in quite a different way to the space. Although Gary’s work is different to mine, we both share an interest in engaging people with places.
Sinta’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.
Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)