BSR alumna Gina Medcalf’s (Abbey Fellow 2014–15) exhibition Oplontis Room 66 is currently open at the Kapil Jariwala Gallery, London. In this blog Gina discusses the dialogue between the historic and the contemporary and how the work is inspired by research carried out during her BSR residency.
Photo Antonio Palmieri
In the Oplontis Room 66 series of paintings I want to connect the historic and the contemporary experiences of painting. Already in my mind as an inspiring narrative before my BSR Abbey Fellowship of 2015, Roman wall paintings had a presence which demanded a deeper understanding. I followed the clues as my research unfolded, like reading a detective story. Similarly, the paintings which followed took their time to unfold, research and put into practice.
The Room 66 wall paintings are of exceptional quality. Perhaps by the same team of painters as the ‘fantastic’ architectural designs in the Cryptoporticus of Nero’s Domus Aurea in Rome. ‘The decorative system in the Domus Aurea spread from the capital to the rest of the Empire’, says Alessandra Zampieri in her book, Ornament and the Grotesque. And since it is a probability that Oplontis was built by Nero for his wife Poppea, the use of the same painters in the two locations could be considered. Oplontis is a supreme example of Nero’s ‘new’ taste in decorative art.
However, I was not so interested in the grotesques in Room 66 as in the strong contrasts between the red and black below and the white grounded, full polychromatic upper part. A visitor to the preview of my painting exhibition wrote, ‘I hope one day we will get to Oplontis, but I must say I imagined it as a rather sad and gloomy place and your paintings are so full of life that I must be wrong.’ The paintings at Oplontis are still full of life with their vibrant drawing and colour, two thousand years after they were painted.
In preparation for the Abbey Fellowship at the BSR, I looked at colour in Roman wall paintings from the point of view of use, availability and cost, then I looked for the closest equivalent to those colours in paints today. In Room 66 I found the key to unlock a convincing interpretation of that passage of time between c.50 CE and 2015. The red, black, yellow, turquoise, sienna and brown oxide colours and the integration of that colour and linear drawings were the foundation for my 2018 series of paintings.
Oplontis Room 66 is showing at the Kapil Jariwala Gallery, London until 2 November 2018.