As we approach the June Mostra, our third 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. The fourth interview is from Andrew Bonneau our Fletcher Foundation Resident.
Will you show these drawings (pictured above) at the June Mostra?
Yes, I will show these drawings and maybe some paintings too. Mostly my paintings are en plein air done in the Borghese gardens and at the Forum.
How do you select your subjects?
There are some iconic sculptures that are well known and are part of the academic drawing canon, like this one (pictured below): the Ludovisi Ares/Mars at Rest from Palazzo Altemps. I wanted to see what it is about these sculptures that sets them apart from others. Drawing this one yesterday, I realised that it’s a real masterpiece. The quality of the pose, even the forms of the muscles, have this kind of contained energy. Even the in expression on the face, there’s a consistency to the whole figure which is of a certain mood.
Is this energy different from other sculptures you have seen?
Yes, definitely. I have made a drawing of Athena, also from Palazzo Altemps. I chose this more for its meaning rather than its aesthetic qualities, although of course aesthetics play a part. Athena is a warrior goddess, a supreme character, very majestic. She’s an important goddess for the Athenians, in the Odyssey she guided Telemachus to find his father. But this sculpture is actually heavily restored. The torso is original second century Roman, but the head and the legs are from the seventeenth century so it’s kind of a hybrid – they did a nice job of trying to make it consistent. However, it doesn’t have the overall sense of unity.
Has it been important for you to look at the original over the copy?
It’s nice if you can look at original Greek or Roman sculpture. For example sculptures that were famous in the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century, such as the Belvedere Apollo. You might think “Why is this sculpture considered to be so important?”, yet, when you draw it you think “Okay this is actually pretty good, I can see why, it’s not arbitrary.” When something is part of the canon, without understanding the reason for its inclusion it can be seen as a cliché, it’s just what people have liked for centuries and they liked it because they were told to like it but when you actually investigate and compare you can see that quality is a real thing. It’s nice to test out the assumptions and to see the difference, not just in terms of quality but character too.
This is a drawing of the Dying Gaul (pictured below), which is in the Capitoline Museum. I think this is a really good sculpture, it’s the pathos not just in the face but in the gesture – even in the shapes of the muscles. It has a different character than this (compared to Mars at Rest). In this pose, he’s dying, holding onto life and there’s an almost exhausted quality to it. There’s a formal quality about the suggestion of life within the body.
How do you place yourself within twentieth-century artistic developments?
There’s a lot of twentieth century art I like (probably up until Pop Art). But there were so many movements in twentieth-century art, that art practice got further and further away from the training artists would have in the past. The kind of training where you draw from the life model, study light and shade and composition and you construct paintings based on that knowledge. Early modernism came at the end of that tradition and seemed to feel that it had to radically remake itself. Since then, the tendency has been towards deconstruction and there doesn’t seem to have been much attempt at reconstruction – putting things back together. When I went to art school, when studying art history, I remember thinking that we have so much to draw upon – in fact all of art history to draw upon – but without the skills you don’t have access to any of this, because you can’t tune into the same things that those artists were doing. I’m interested in reclaiming some of the skill and the aesthetic, it’s partly personal and partly looking at art history, seeing what’s missing and what I’d like to see more of. But I’m at odds with most contemporary art and artists, because most of them don’t think that way. I’m going back to something earlier and I’m quite conscious it’s not a normal thing to be doing, but I think it’s important.
I think in a larger cultural sense it would be a shame to look at the period we’re in now and not see any good figurative painting. We have a pluralistic art world now and a pluralistic world in general and many things can exist at the same time and I think that’s good. So I’m trying to do this particular thing that isn’t being done much. It’s not cynical and it’s not deconstructive, it’s not ironic.
There is so much in Rome to learn from in each period, but since I’ve been here I’ve been drawn towards the sculpture and painting from antiquity. It really helps you understand the things that came later and you can see the continuity. So I guess I’m looking for that language. It’s not the only language but it’s one I’d like to be more familiar with.
Andrew’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.
Interview by Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries). Photos courtesy of the artist.