Meet the artists… Sarah Pupo

An interview with Sarah Pupo, our January-March 2020, Québec Resident, in which she speaks about the works she produced during her residency at the BSR.


Installation detail. Image credit: Marta Pellerini

Your paintings give physical expression to the abstract ideas of reflection, shadow and trace. What interests you about these transparent and soft concepts?

Yes, I’m trying to speak to what is intangible and difficult to embody in a physical way. I think this is why I’m using these materials that are that are barely there, that leave imprints or traces of themselves, are made of shadows and light, washes of colour, suggestions of shape and structures that barely hold themselves together. I want to give form to the things we can’t see or put into words, like a feeling that washes over you or a memory of someone, or the resonance a place holds.

These physical elements of the work are tied to ways of thinking that are not linear but more associative, like you see a thing and it reminds you of another, you see a gesture that makes you recollect something in the past that you can’t put your finger on. That sense of familiarity, coincidence, déjà vu, something just below the surface. Rome is an interesting place for that, because there is such a feeling of memory and time here and so many residual traces of the past. The ones that are most interesting to me are not the grand monuments but all the things that are broken or half-erased, all the left-overs.

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Laundry hanging in the street in Naples. Photograph by the artists.

It’s as though you are creating different inhabitable worlds with your sculptures. Where do the ideas for these places come from?

They have emerged from these traces and in between spaces where time moves differently. When I make drawings I see it as a ritual: you sit down in the same space with the same set of tools every day and you are returning to a moment in time. You do this physical practice to try to connect these moments and create a space where time works cyclically, stretches out, decisions happen slowly and different types of thought are able to emerge. In the best moments you are opening yourself to a subconscious, intuitive world, a place of associative thinking and slowing down. I love those little weird moments where I feel lost in time, that’s why I animate too. When making stop motion animation it takes forever to make a small thing move but it also feels like no time at all. It is very meditative and I want to bring people into these in between worlds that become a bit dream-like. Where the rigidity of things soften and they aren’t clear or sharp anymore and you can make more poetic associations. My shadow forms are in the process of becoming something like a full thought and I want to bring people into this soft middle space.

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Ceilings inside the Domus Aurea. Photograph by the artists.


Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

Meet the artists…Sharon Kelly

An interview with Sharon Kelly, our 2020-21 Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellow, in which she speaks about the works she has produced during the first months of her residency at the BSR.

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Watercolour Torso, watercolour on black paper, 13 × 13 cm, courtesy of the artist

Your practice focuses on investigating the areas of human experience and the body: in what way are you expanding your research in Italy?

My work embraces how it is to be in the world and has been informed by personal experience. I have always been interested in the body and in recent years explored the idea of the body under strain; so for example, I made work in response to the challenges of running; the experience of endurance athletes who push the boundaries of the physical body. This led to explorations around mental challenges and the mind/body synergy. Prior to my coming to Rome, my focus shifted to the area of physical illness, bodily strain, breakdown and bracing.

Early on in the residency I made visits to Museo Universitario delle Scienze e delle Arti in Naples and drew inspiration from the human anatomy collections, which I found very poignant. In Rome I visited the Museo Storico Nazionale dell’Arte Sanitaria viewing the  historical collection of medical exhibits. I was lucky to be here in Rome to see the Sublimi Anatomie exhibition in Palazzo delle Esposizioni.  What has been interesting for me is the contrast between the interior body, the body excavated and liquidity of the body and then being exposed to examples of Etruscan and Roman sculpture that you can see in the Museo Nazionale Romano in Palazzo Massimo for example — suggesting the solidity, mass and permanence of the body.  I’ve been inspired also by time ravaged frescoes and sculptures; the fragmented and broken gestures which have made their way into the work…


Dry Media, charcoal on paper, 60 × 115 cm, courtesy of the artist

In my research, I have found memorable examples of anatomical votives from the collections in Museo Nazionale Etrusco, Villa Giulia, in churches and on walls in the city itself. The broken or fragmented body is echoed over time in the faded and damaged frescoes from ancient times. Visually and spiritually they have had a big impact on me. My research has embraced the idea of the votive as either healing petitions or reflections of gratitude for healing. This connects strongly with a tradition still practised in Ireland of rag trees and holy wells. A fragment of the clothing of a sick relative is dipped in the holy well and tied to a tree in hope of healing.

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Red Study, watercolour and crayon on paper,
24 × 36 cm, courtesy of the artist

Visiting your studio, one has a feeling of synergy between the body and the mind. Does this psychological aspect interest you, and if so, how?

Indeed such ideas are always present in my mind. The body as our vehicle for our own sense of ourselves — it’s an aspect that I have been researching using the resources in the library, in particular practices of ancient people and questions around how they may have understood their bodies and their relationship with deities and mortality. The vision of the fragmented body can be unsettling and ambiguous. At present I am contemplating many ideas and developing the work through the use of both dry and fluid materials — charcoal and watercolour / ink — which in a sense echoes the previous comments about solidity and fluidity.

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Torso Fluid, ink and watercolour on paper,
30 × 22 cm, courtesy of the artist

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

Meet the artists… Paul Becker

An interview with Paul Becker, our January-March 2020 Abbey Fellow in Painting, in which he speaks about the works he produced during his three-month residency at the BSR.


Image: Skirt of ‘Toilette of Salomé II’
Oil on canvas, 2019. Courtesy of the artist

.Has anything inspired a shift in your artistic practice since your arrival to Rome?

There are lots of things I have been thinking about but more to do with the wider cultural context of Italy. Perhaps not the ancient world or the Baroque but I have always been interested in Italian history and certain cultural events, certain films, novelists, certain artists. More generally I have been interested in the fin de siècle, in end of the century artists and writers and the feeling, the atmosphere present within that time, and how there are obvious correlations with what is happening now in the world: a feeling that we are all slightly doomed, and that society is approaching a crisis, just as people felt just before the beginning of the 20th century (and were proved right). I have been looking at Medardo Rosso, Visconti’s Death in Venice, decadent art, symbolist art, Beardsley, Spilliaert, Max Klinger. But none of these things are referenced specifically, I am just looking and thinking about them. Talking to the props makers at Cinecittá was quite extraordinary. All these histories of film and time, jumbled up and reused: a bust from Spartacus being recycled for Gladiator. A chandelier from Casanova or Salò dusted off for a Gucci shoot. 


From the props dept at Cinecittà. Chandeliers from Visconti’s Death in Venice and Pasolini’s Salò. Photograph by the artist

You’re a painter, but you’re also a musician and a writer. How do these practices influence one another?

There is a similar approach when I try and make music: a freedom that comes from not really knowing what I’m doing, or where I am going. Making something from nothing. I’ve not got any recognisable skills as a musician but the band I play in (War Dr with Luke McCreadie) still manage to produce good things through our complete lack of virtuosity. So, yes, in that way it is connected to my paintings. As for the writing, I suppose I have more idea of structure, or strategy for how it could function. Perhaps editing is closer to painting? Certainly, the painting and the music have more similarities in locating the subject, the content, the work itself, in the process of trying to formulate it: like writing a poem and the making of the poem becomes the work. I don’t want to impose too much, I am looking for clarity but that doesn’t mean I want things to be explained or to be specific, not in music, not in writing and especially not in painting. It is more about locating an uncertain feeling, an atmosphere, something I cannot explain that is not to do with inspiration, with research or specific references but that is really important to me to try and have in the world.


Image: Max Klinger Repose from Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove (1881)


Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Mariam Gulamhussein

Thank you to everyone who made the December Mostra a success. Our eighth and final artist interview is of Mariam Gulamhussein, our Giles Worsley Fellow.

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Studio view, 2019

Your research interest for this residency focuses on the architect Luigi Moretti and how his work was influenced by Michelangelo, especially in the building Casa il Girasole in Rome. Could you tell us more about it?

Moretti had an eclectic way of applying Michelangelo’s sensitivity into his own architecture. What was originally an aim to understand the ‘feeling of construction’ in Michelangelo’s designs since the age of 19, later developed into an architectural ambition that he explored, not only through his writings and making (sketching, plaster casting, photographing Michelangelo’s work) – but in his own architectural designs. During my time in Rome it has been important for me to get a good understanding of these influences, firstly analysing the original documentation and models held at the Archivio Moretti-Magnifico and the Archivio Centrale dello Stato di Roma, and then placing Moretti’s explorations alongside my own physical responses to the building. For me the Casa ‘Il Girasole’ which is just around the corner from the BSR on viale Bruno Buozzi, is particularly significant because it shows not only tectonic and formal assonance with Michelangelo’s work but material assimilations in light, colour and texture. Ultimately the proposal invites a contemporary reflection on the value of our built history as precedent and I hope to take an essence of this feeling into my own architectural process today.

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‘Il Girasole’, 35mm b&w film photograph printed on fibre paper, 300 x 400 mm, 2019.

Do you consider yourself to be a visual artist?

I don’t know if I can categorise myself in this way. If I reflect on where I am now, being at BSR is such a special opportunity to learn from both scholars and artists and I feel like I have been in a privileged position of being in between the two. The way I’m working is trying to explore this relationship to the arts firstly in the process using more artistic ways of making as a means of researching and naturally therefore in the result. During my time I have asked myself a similar question about the nature of my work and I think it is polyvalent and this multiplicity is what I enjoy the most.


‘Il Girasole’, negative void plaster and clay cast, 2019.


Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Bea Bonafini

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The seventh interview is of Bea Bonafini, our Abbey Scholar.

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Bea in her studio at the BSR

What is your relationship with materials like ceramic and fabric?

I approach both of them as materials to be stained and layered, and then reconfigured again and again. I use fabrics because of their versatility, my daily intimacy with them, because they keep us warm and embellish the body, they make objects comfortable, it’s what we sleep in. I like using an inlay technique to shape the material into a patchwork made up of separate entities. The cut-out form can be removed, repeated and replaced. Within the rules I set myself, the process of making can become very methodical, where the repetitive slicing and splicing eventually creates a complex composition of juxtaposed and superimposed forms.

My relationship to ceramics is closer to food. I knead clay and dough in the same way, and whereas one becomes edible the other becomes its container. I’ve made ceramics that have a functionality that is then stretched into something more abstract and surreal. My recent series looked at ceramics in a religious context – Acquasantiere were used a lot in southern Italy, at the entrance of homes or churches, depicting an iconic figure like the Virgin and Child. They contain holy liquids while also referencing very bodily things. I began staining porcelain with pigments in the same way I do with my fabrics by using chalk, pastels or oils. The pigments don’t just sit on the surface but stain the fibres and the clay, permeating the whole of the material.

My textile pieces can be really monumental, from 12 or 15 metres long, to much smaller and intimate hand sewn pieces. When I work with textiles, it’s often horizontally on the floor and it’s very sculptural. Whereas the ceramics give me that direct relationship with my body.


Laboratorio di calchi del De Angelis a Cinecitta

You always work with fragmentation and in Italy you have the chance to see fragments of Etruscan and Roman frescoes. In which way are you thinking of linking them with your work?

I’ve been thinking more and more about how through time things can be superimposed. How a layer of painting is painted over with different imagery at some point later in time, hiding the previous work but not entirely, and so they coexist. They are overlapping and speaking over each other. I’ve also been thinking about layers of soil that contain different objects within it. I’ve been doing tests with jesmonite poured in layers to trap fragments of beach glass or horse hair or tiny bits of ceramics within it. I’ve then been smashing them to turn them into rubble, and trapping them between sheets of plastics amongst a collaged composition of other fragments of drawings, prints and fabrics. I’m thinking more and more about how objects can contain many other objects within them, and our ideas of how to salvage material, like a healing process.

Bea’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).


Rilievo in tufo a Cerveteri all’entrata del museo

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Max Fletcher

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The sixth interview is of Max Fletcher, our Sainsbury Scholar.

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Max in his studio at the BSR

How did you become interested in the play El Nost Milan by Carlo Bertolazzi?

I had been reading William Morris’s play The Tables Turned; or, Nupkins Awakened which was written in the 1890s in London. At the same time, I was also reading a Louis Althusser essay, The ‘Piccolo Teatro’: Bertolazzi and Brecht. Carlo Bertolazzi, the subject of Althusser’s text, was an Italian contemporary of Morris, and while the themes that they explore are similar, the form that each’s writing takes could not be more different.

Morris’s play has a clear narrative and deals in no uncertain terms with the prison system, police corruption, wealth inequality, and protest. After Judge Nupkins dishes out heavy sentences to the poor, and lets the wealthy go free, a tipping point is reached when the court room is stormed by Morris’s comrades. The result is a socialist utopia, blighted only by the lone figure of Nupkins who wonders through the countryside, unsure of his place in this new society. Bertolazzi, on the other hand, has a more nuanced understanding of form. El Nost Milan’s setting is a funfair and consists of the unemployed in 1890s Milan walking the stage and waiting for something, anything. Food, perhaps, if they’re lucky. The play ends with Nina, the daughter of a fire-eater, leaving world of the fair and poverty in exchange for the other side, where in Althusser’s words ‘pleasure and money reign.’ It is a world of exploitation and corruption but at least there is truth. Each act follows the same structure: nothing much happens as some forty characters come and go, yet there is a sudden flash of action, a conflict, before the act closes. This radically changes the course of the play. The gap between non-dialectical time (waiting) and dialectical time (sudden action/ conflict) is what so excites Althusser and makes Bertolazzi’s play so radical.

In short, Bertolazzi’s play is highly eccentric, and as a result only achieved limited popular success. Yet it is the oddness of the play and its unconventional form that lead Althusser to suggest that it possesses a sort of alienation effect that goes beyond simply actor/ audience relations and manifests itself in the structure of the play, as with Brecht’s best plays. It is something that occurs between the ‘latent’ action of those passing time and the ‘manifest’ action that shapes each act. I found this account of the play compelling and wanted to research further into Carlo Bertolazzi. Yet, the play was written in Milanese dialect and has never been translated. It experienced a revival between 1955 and 1980 with Giorgio Strehler putting on several performances at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, and the play even travelled to Paris, where Althusser was in the audience. The combination of an exemplary form and lack of an English translation drew me to research the play further and use it as a base for my time in Rome.


Pieter Brugel the Elder, The Misanthrope, Capodimonte, Napoli

In your opinion is there a connection between painting and theatre?

Painting and theatre have always overlapped, and it is not uncommon to hear painting being described either positively or negatively as ‘theatrical.’ I am interested in how a relationship with painting can be maintained, while also incorporating a wider set of interests, theatre included.

Rosalind Krauss is adamant that medium cannot be abandoned, but nor can it retreat into itself. Instead it must be seen as a layering of conventions, in constant need of re-articulation. For Krauss, Marcel Broodthaers’s work could easily be characterised a part of a ‘post-medium condition’ but instead she suggests that medium is integral to Broodthaers. In his film A Voyage on the North Sea, we see a number of still images including: a painting of a ship at sea, the sails of the ship, the painted waves, and weave of the canvas. Each image is attributed a page number, but the sequence is muddled, indicating an incomplete history. Broodthaers states the film deals with ‘painting as subject,’ which Krauss suggests refers to medium rather than content.

In using Bertolazzi’s El Nost Milan as source material, I am interested in the written form of the play, but also how it becomes a device for structuring a series of paintings. Page number, act, scene, the use of dialect, and translation, are all variables in a sequence of paintings. These variables become part of the apparatus of painting. The paintings themselves can use theatre to imply a narrative, but at the same time eschew that narrative. They are capable of operating in isolation, but also as the backdrop to performance, to theatre.


Max’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).


Pasolini Monument, Ostia

December Mostra 2019 / Meet the artists… Marlee McMahon

In conjunction with the opening of the December Mostra, we are taking a closer look at the individual practices of our resident artists. The fifth interview is of Marlee McMahon, our Cranbourne Fellow.


Marlee McMahon in her studio at the BSR

You’re a painter, but during this residency you have decided to experiment with the technique of collage. Could you explain why you decided to use another media?

My painting practice is quite time consuming and uses many materials. Rome provided me with the opportunity to push away from the rigid masking process that I had been using to make work; ultimately, removing paint was a simple way for me to open up my practice and to discover new ways of making. As colour is important in my work, I found that paper was a nice way to play with immediate colour, shape, and composition. Paper / collage allowed me a sense of freedom that I struggled to find in other materials.

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Designer Sale (M-tooth), 2019, Acrylic on Canvas (60 x 56 cm)

What do you find interesting in work by David Tremlett?

I think the materiality and his response to space through colour and shape are the key reasons why I am interested in his work. I appreciate the sensitivity is his application of pigment onto architecture in Italy. In many of his public installations he brings something new, colour, shape and an idea to a pre-existing place. The spaces that he installs his drawing directly onto are sites that he may not have a personal connection to. The kind of stamping of pigment onto (these sometimes foreign) buildings I find engaging. He manages to mark these spaces without offending them. Visually, I’m drawn to the different pigments that he uses, the colours are so organic and through his composition he creates works that have the most wonderfully quiet and calming effect.


David Tremlett, decorazioni esterne della Chiesetta della Beata Maria Vergine del Carmine, Coazzolo (Asti) 2017

Marlee’s work is exhibited alongside other resident artists in the December Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 14 December 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser).