December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Emily Motto

This is the third in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. We will be taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architect. Third to be interviewed is Emily Motto, our 2017-18 Derek Hill Foundation Scholar.


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

How has your project evolved since being in Rome?

When I came here the focus of my proposal was to look at lots of the Renaissance illusionistic frescos – and spend time in places like the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio, with the ceiling painted by Andrea Pozzo, and experience other frescos painted by him and others, like those we saw on our tour of the convent of Trinità dei Monti. I really wanted to take from how sculptural they are, and ways they play with the space and the shapes they’re painted on, and was thinking about how I could make pictures and drawings with a lot of volume. Our first trip to the Forum with Robert Coates-Stephens, and being surrounded by so many ruins, has also really inspired a lot of things I’ve been making here. I really like to make sculptures that have a sense of instability and transience – and this is so present in the city. Experiencing these different parts of Rome together has been an incredibly inspiring combination actually – seeing both decaying surfaces, and illusions of infinite content, of heavens.


Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio, with the ceiling painted by Andrea Pozzo (Photo: Emily Motto)

Your installations incorporate a broad spectrum of materials and imagery. Could you tell us more about that?

The materials and imagery I use are things that I find and see around me. I think that there is something about tactility which is very important, and that they have some kind of sense of independence. And a kind of temporality that is fun to play with.

Before I came here I was printing lots of digital images in my work. But when I came here I was excited to explore the frescos and how images were constructed by hand, and for very specific viewing, hundreds of years before our use of digital replication.

provisional conditions

Provisional Conditions, Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall, London (Photo: Emily Motto)

Will this installation be different from work you have done in London?

Making things with materials that I have found here in Rome has been really great and quite different – I’ve been working a lot with these big rolls of cardboard as surfaces to paint on and build things with, and with cement. I’ve been experimenting with other ways to scale things that I’ve seen to these more palpable sizes without the large printer I was using back in London too, using different ways of projecting, and by drawing freehand. I have taken a lot of photographs while I have been here too as a process of recording things, which I’m sure I’ll continue using when I get back to London, there’s been so much to take in here.

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Work in progress, studio shot (Photo: Emily Motto)

There seem to be many layers and access points when seeing/reading your work. Have you found any overlap between your practice and the structure of the city?

In the first and second week I found the layers of the city a bit overwhelming – but very inspiring in that kind of confusion. I found it tricky to distinguish between all the different layers of ancient ruins, as to me everything was so new. The longer I have been here, and with the historians, the easier it has been to distinguish between these and see how they all fit together. I love all the stories of reuse of materials in the city. There is this heaviness in the way that everything has been preserved at the moment here, and how the decay of the remaining fragments and monuments has been controlled. I like to use the weight and fragility of materials I’m using, and to use all of these dependencies with an openness to making something else – passing control to different materials or parts of the process, I suppose it’s quite organic in that sense. The Roman skies are something I have been really inspired by when walking around and being here – perhaps even more so than the skies and heavens in the frescos I was keen to see actually.

Will you incorporate these skies into the installation?

Yes, I think I will. I have been painting some of these skies out from the photos I’ve taken – the buildings are so heavy and dense without them. And I’ve been painting these large quite flat solid skies alongside these towers in the studio. The skies are so important in these heavenly frescos, but also in so much of the architecture here, which I hadn’t realized before, especially in structures like the Pantheon. Rome seems to be full of these allusions to the infinite.

sky image

Studio shot (Photo: Emily Motto)

How have you found working alongside artists, architects and scholars at the BSR?

I have learned so much from being at the BSR and visiting places with the historians. I’ve discovered so many stories and histories to things that I never would have known of the fragments if I’d seen them alone, like how so much of the marble in churches, like St Peter’s, was actually pinched from the Colosseum walls.

You are part Italian, how are you reconnecting with your Italian heritage while you are here?

Yes, and what was really cool was hearing the Paolozzi lecture (‘Eduardo Paolozzi: transnational belongings’ Derek Duncan, St Andrews), as my dad is Italian but born in England, and my nonna is from a village a few hours outside of Rome. She came to the UK in a very similar to way to Paolozzi’s family who left around the time of the war – and worked making ice cream like them too! It was exciting to hear how that inspired his work, and I’m looking forward to visiting my relatives whilst I’m here.

Emily’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)