As we approach the March Mostra, our second exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. Our first interview is with Murat Urlali, our National Art School, Sydney, Resident
The decorative motifs of the Cosmati mosaic floors that you saw in San Clemente have begun to appear in your work. These mosaics take inspiration from the Eastern Byzantine tradition overlapping with the Western Classical. How are ideas of cross-cultural exchange explored in your work?
The cross-cultural exchange or interculturalism is a really important for me and for my art.
The Quebec philosopher Charles Taylor says that multiculturalism encourages the Ghettos and Ghettoism in a country. But interculturalism emphasises the integration, which is exactly what I agree with. Multiculturalism requires equal rights for different cultures, but there is no requirement for them to interact with each other, except through a common spoken language in a country. But interculturalism promotes interaction, understanding and respect: integration between different cultures and different ethnic groups. Exploring cross-cultural exchange is, I suppose, at least part of “my thing”!!!
What is important to mention here is that I do not come from a Judea Christian background. When I decided to study art, at the National Art School, Sydney, I suddenly found myself plunged into a world of assumed knowledge of tradition and experience of a Biblical narrative – this was a real cultural shock!! I suppose that exploring cross-cultural exchange is my way of coming to terms with this.
Before I came to Rome, much of my practice was informed by trying to connect the idealised Western imagery, which is traditional painting, with the spiritual symbolism of the Islamic world. Thereby creating a dialogue between the Western and Eastern viewers of my work. Considering the times in which we are living this dialogue is both useful, and I believe necessary.
In Rome you spend so much of your time looking up; to intricately decorated ceilings and to breath-taking sculptures in the Galleria Borghese. These little squares that I have made, inspired by the Cosmati floors, remind you to look down – to see down to what you are walking on. These mosaics are so beautiful and so much work has gone into these cut marble floors. This is what I have tried to reflect in my small squares, my tondi.
You work on a variety of different subjects in your paintings. Tell us more about what you have been exploring while here in Rome?
As an artist who embraces the kitsch and camp, Rome provides such a rich source of inspiration. Even, if you ask me, the Vatican City and the Catholic Church — so theatrical with so many colours.
I have been using my time here sensibly to explore churches, galleries and Museums taking the opportunity to get up close and personal with works of my artistic heroes. I have visited some galleries quite a few times. One church, Santa Maria del Popolo — I honestly can’t remember how many times I have been there — every time I head back to the BSR I pop in and look at my two favorite Caravaggio’s.
This is my first time in Rome and I am trying to look-up and embrace as much as I possibly can!
The tondi ‘Same sex intimacy’ and the ‘Medusa’, I have completed while I have been here. I think it is clear that I have viewed Michelangelo’s and Caravaggio’s work through a rather Camp lens. For the third tondo that I am working on now, I found inspiration at Porta Portese in Trastevere. This market is so big and the streets are so full. I was walking in the market, I saw this Venetian mask and thought, YES — this is what I have to do! I love the mask idea as it lends itself to my practice, letting me reflect on mystic and mystery as well as intimacy and ambiguity. This is why I started to focus first on the eyes of the figure.
Looking to the small works again, I have been fascinated by the patterns that you can find all over Rome. Especially interesting, to me are those that have been influenced by Eastern art, the Cosmati Mosaic floors.
Some people may view working on very precise, geometrically exact and the repetitive patternation as restrictive, but I certainly do not! I have found it quite liberating. By creating these multi textural bejeweled surfaces, that make a density and are dazzling in the light. I hope to capture a light dance and sense of liberation about them. I am trying to invite the viewers to intimately engage with the details and examine the works in detail.
Do you think that you shall take these tondi designs back to Australia?
Certainly, indeed when I go back to Australia I am planning to use some Cosmati patterns in my work. But in Australia I shall work on a different scale 2m in height.
One thing that I know is that I shall be coming back! I don’t know how after all these years I have not been in Rome, I shall be back very soon!
Murat’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 June 2018, closed Sundays.
Interview by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events). Photos by Murat Urlali (excepting church of San Clemente, copyright free image).