In February, artist and former BSR Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture Nicholas Hatfull gave the third Felicity Powell Lecture, following on from last year’s talks by Padraig Timoney and Marc Camille Chaimowicz.
Taking the 1973 drawing by Andrea Pazienza The True Italian Pop-Art as a jumping-off point, Nick embarked on a picaresque hopscotch, connecting reflections on artefacts ancient and recent with novelistic vignettes from his time in Italy. His lecture was followed by a conversation with Marco Palmieri, and here they continue that conversation two months on from the talk.
NH: Marco, it was very nice to be talking together at the BSR, which has been, and is a special place for both of us. Something Paul Holdengraber is fond of quoting on his podcast is ‘when we talk, things fall out of our pockets’. So let’s see if there’s anything tangled up in our keys…?
MP: When I think back to your talk, I remember quite vividly the enjoyable tasty morsels of imagery your words and presentation brought forth. Funnily enough (as per our previous conversations), your talk reminded me of the book you love so much, The Book of Dreams by Federico Fellini.
You presented so enjoyably post-it note ideas and snapshots of moments of Rome, that over the past years, have been wonderfully woven into your practice; your paintings, sculpture and writings.
Do you think that Fellini’s book has influenced the way you approach – in the broadest sense – the art of making?
NH: Yes, probably in more ways than I can articulate. It’s too hot to handle. I remember being pleased, having left it back in London while on the Sainsbury Scholarship in Rome – it’s a whopper – coming across some loose sheets from his Book of Dreams on display in a small gallery in Via Margutta. Double-sided, displayed on a hinged frame.
Condensed, febrile vignettes. But the book, and his films, as the best art does, affect the way you experience and reflect on the world, your immediate environment. I remember seeing a coachload of tourists, pressed against the vehicle’s windows, filming the Colosseum, and it had this faintly ludicrous, archly stylised aspect. The coach seemed haloed, yet a little menacing. These things are gift-wrapped moments.
I was just describing to someone the Pizzeria Da Michele, which Gabriel (Hartley) showed me on Via Flaminia. Completely invisible from street level, one enters it through a children’s museum. Suddenly you are not in central Rome but a motorway service station, but a service station that serves fantastic Neapolitan pizza, so molten it’s more like a soup than many. This bleeding of one associative experience into another is the working (il)logic of Fellini. Speaking of Gabriel, while visiting the BSR it was my good fortune to visit the studios of artists I knew and was yet to know.
Few things are better for the soul than visiting another artist’s studio, and it was nice to able to make a few suggestions of what the scholars might take a look at, having worked in Rome myself. It was a treat, also, Marco to come see your studio off Via Tuscolana in advance of your exhibition in Milan.
MP: I think this layering of ‘experiences’, from having a gelato, to seeing a bus full of tourists gawking at the colosseum, compounded with the pre-existing archive of memories and artworks one keeps safely stored in the back of one’s head, seems to unfold quite feverishly – but also with a sense of ease – in your work. A hard balance to pull off. I see it in your paintings, your sculptures, and writing. I would be curious to know more of which experiences, between your past Roman life (or lives, since you have been a resident in Rome more than once) and current life in London, are rubbing against each other at the moment? You have always had a real knack for composing surreal open associations!
NH: We just spent some days on Holkham beach, which reminded me of the – quite different – dunes at Ostia. And on the morning of my departure from Rome, the arrival Siberian air…a playground in Testaccio in the snow – all ochre, saffron and forest green mottled by dirty white. And, a little to my horror, gelato. Gosh, it certainly sounds like I deal in cliché. But of course I suspect there is an abyss to be uncovered beneath these moments.
Not to mention driving back from Arezzo in the snow, listening to Songs for Drella. Preparing the BSR talk was a nice chance to write, assembling those faintly comic, memoirish vignettes.
MP: Well it is interesting that you mention clichès. I remember a few years ago Lucy Coggle writing a piece on the power of the clichè, not as an endpoint in language, but a possible new alphabet to create inventive forms of prose/narratives/meaning. I think neither of us are against the pleasures of clichès or the kitsch. The iconic figure of the Italian gelato holds its ground just as much as a Caravaggio painting.
I guess I am interested in knowing more how you navigate this big pot of images, memories, and experiences; how do you sift through this all, and decide what things are allowed to ‘fall out of your pocket’. I guess my question involves your opinion on questions of selection, appropriation and editing…
Does writing, perhaps, help shape a very distinct ‘handwriting’?
(I guess this could be seen as a necessary tip of the hat to the likes of Cy Twombly and Howard Hodgkin)
NH: I hadn’t specifically related Hodgkin’s mode of image making to the idea of the trophy before preparing the talk, and I have been chewing on it in the weeks since. A number of Twombly’s paintings of the eighties seem inflected by his love of being driven on particular routes, scrolling blurred landscape out the window. Both these artists, of course, arrive at something melting, quivering, but condensed and powerfully eloquent.
Regarding your point on navigating options, I must say it rarely, if ever, feels like a decision as such. It is a case of following the only route that appears viable at that time. Perhaps you could call it a stock pot on the boil, but all I can do is skim off the matter that has risen to the surface -scum?
MP: It’s interesting to hear you talk about your decision-making with such a light grip. When you were giving your talk – and once again these past days – John Ashbery came to mind, specifically his poem Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. His approach, and yours, seem to have something in common; an experience, or in this specific case an image, conjures a concatenation of words and images that seem to flow quite effortlessly, with puncuating moments spread throughout. Do you see something in this poem that might relate to the way you make or think?
NH: If I called to mind Ashbery then I was doing something right, but I’m too English not to baulk at the comparison! Not long ago I was reading a recent collection, Breezeway. I very much like the simultaneous courting of charges of meaninglessness, while the poems bristle with fugitive or potential meaning.
MP: I think Ashbery is a good fit. Both of you manage to draw out so many nutrients (be it words or images) from various experiences in such a rich way.
I guess I would like to finish off our interview with a question about Rome; what have you brought back with you to London from this recent trip? I ask, hoping to be left with some teasers that we might see eek out in future works or projects.
MP to NH:
NH: I love this picture. What a suitable ending…