March Mostra 2018 / Meet the artists…Oona Grimes

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 and resident architecture fellow. Our second interview is with Oona Grimes, our Bridget Riley Fellow.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Tell us more about your introduction to Rome and the influence of
Italian cinema in your work?

I originally fell in love with Rome through cinema – a mis-spent youth watching too many Italian films, and I am now expanding the script through the below-ness & sideways-ness of the city guided by the amazing archaeologists and art historians here; the trips to Cinecitta, San Giovanni in Laterano, Trinità dei Monti & discovering Totò at the Museo di Roma in Trastevere.

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I loved the arrival at the BSR and enforced chucking out of familiar habits & materials. Initially I was drowning in a sea of visual treats, seeing Rome as if for the first time & felt like a veritable tartan sea sponge, a kid who has overdosed on candy floss.

I felt as if I had woken up in heaven – too many treats & vast amounts of exhilarating information, like a giant tramezzino & triple negroni circumnavigating my brain – completely intoxicated! Excited by the trips & tours, exploring new or overlooked places with the other award-holders, the talks & best of all the casual brilliance of conversations at mealtimes. The shared detail of the drape of a toga or Roman plumbing system, the flow of a fascist fountain, the philosophy of Olivetti……..

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No drizzling or gratings here just gorgeous dollops & generous sploshes of rich nourishing brain fodder!

You usually have several different projects on the go at once. What
have you been making while here in Rome?

Firstly deciding not to panic or enforce a premature response. Drawing, drawing always drawing. Filling notebooks in order to make sense of things. Fast drawings and slow drawings continually circumnavigating the left brain. So the smaller rapid fire ‘not a neorealist storyboard’ are coloured pencil fragments from mis-remembered films, and larger slower double-page spread stencil drawings: a potential giant storyboard, non-sequential sequence.

Fumetti grrrrls celebrate flatness of frescoes, blackness of analogue film & badly restored fake patches. A discourse between a Porta Portese tea towel and the handkerchief of Saint Veronica. Fragments of Etruscan porn dance with pixelated vespas & the maid from Teorema. A bit of flayed peeling and patching in a passata of Pasolini and Pucci. Fumetti grrrrls are invitations to a dinner party with i gemelli di Fellini, Totò and le sorelle Fontana.

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i gemelli di Fellini Oona Grimes. Spray paint, coloured pencil & collage on paper. 76x111cm

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the priest and the choir grrrrl Oona Grimes. Spray paint, coloured pencil & collage on paper 76x111cm

Your parallel project is also influenced by Italian film. Tell us more about how this project is developing…

I have been re-visiting certain scenes from neorealist films. Initially re-drawing or storyboarding them and trying to make sense of them by re-enacting in a series of wilfully amateurish iPhone rushes – the kind that usually deservedly end up on the cutting room floor or in the giant digital blackhole of tourist photo albums.

Looping slapstick-like fragments, stretching the commedia dell’arte element by repetition and abstraction, a Sisyphean rehearsal for a never to be released film. Owning the discourse through mis-remembering, imitation and low-tech re-enactment.

Which films/scenes have you been looking at…

Umberto D (1952, Vittorio De Sica), extracting the scene where he is reduced to begging in Piazza Rotonda. The mozzarella in carrozza eating scene in Ladri di Biciclette (1948, Vittorio De Sica) and a glass-bottomed bucket cut from Stromboli (Terra di Dio) (1950, Roberto Rossellini)

These are a sideways hop – maybe a hop into the bin or maybe over the Tiber………!

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Ladri di biciclette

Do you think that your practice/plans have changed since coming to
All the elements from my original proposal are still there and are shifting, but reconfigured in an entirely different order, and I am extremely glad to have six months here as I really have not even begun to make sense of anything – but am enjoying the non sense!

I’m seeing the Mostra as an opportunity to have these conversations outside of the studio and not just inside my head.

Oona’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the March Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 16 March 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 24 March 2018, closed Sundays.

Photos by Oona Grimes. Interview by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)


March Mostra 2018 / Meet the artists…Gabriel Hartley

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 and resident architecture fellow. The first to be interviewed is Gabriel Hartley, our Abbey Fellow in Painting.


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

It seems that you produce a lot of your images and paintings quickly. Could you tell us more about your process and how things unfold in your studio?

I have two different ways of making paintings. One for which I do a lot of drawings, sometimes from sight and sometimes from memory, and then these drawings are translated directly into the painting. These for example might be an architectural detail that I have seen or an object from a museum. I then translate these drawings and plan the painting.

The second approach is to find the image as I am making. I use an angle grinder to excavate the paint and reveal layers that have previously been covered. Through making I find what I am interested in and what I have been looking at, and then take these on board for the next painting.



Studio shot

There is an interesting interplay between abstraction and figuration within your paintings and sculptures. It usually seems that your surroundings influence the choices you make within your work.

For a while I’ve been responding to how one shapes oneself in response to a place or an environment. It’s been a challenge here in how to react to the classical architecture. How to deal with all the columns and arches. I’ve tried to be as open as possible to all that I’ve been looking at, perhaps more than I am normally, and have used painting as a way of processing all the visual overload that Rome has thrown at me. Looking around the studio there are things I can name and place as responses to specific things , be it the Vespas,  a Bernini alterpiece, artefacts from Etruscan Museums, the elegant tall pines , or graffiti of ships from Pompeii.

I picked up this book of Pompeiian graffiti from the BSR library and just really love the translations of the graffiti into drawings.


You have worked with a broad variety of materials, including resin, foam, and glass. Do you plan on working with new materials during your residency here?

In terms of working with new materials, my plan was to make sculptures with resin, which I’m gearing myself up to at the moment. There has been a slight change in process in some of the paintings  where I have been working on wood panels and carving out the forms of the paintings with a grinder. Since being here I have been drawn to the quality of the paint being part of the material in the frescoes. I’m not sure how that will manifest itself, or if it has,  but it will creep in somewhere I’m sure.


Close-up showing excavation technique

Do you think the experience of working in Rome will affect your work in any specific way?

I was particularly struck by the visit to the excavations under San Giovanni in Laterano with Ian Haynes (Newcastle).


Excavations under San Giovanni in Laterano

I am really drawn to the idea of different histories sitting on top of and alongside each other, how they interrelate and you discover things you didn’t expect.  I was struck by this on the tour as I realised that there was this labyrinth underneath the basilica and I had to work out how all these different layers fitted together. To understand the different timelines, you have to be really imaginative. This feeling is what I want to convey with my paintings, I want the viewer to have to be constantly active, to be re-focusing and looking and thinking in different ways to try to piece together the painting.

Gabriel’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the March Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 16 March 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 24 March 2018, closed Sundays.

Interview and photos by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)

A look back at the December Mostra 2017

Last December the BSR saw the first mostra of our 2017–18 programme, in which our seven Fine Arts award-holders and resident architect put together an exhibition of works produced during the course of their residencies. Here we bring you a selection of photographs of works from the exhibition. You can read more about the practice of each artist by clicking on their name.

The exhibition was made possible with funding from Robin Hambro, with additional support from the Arts Council of Wales, the Augusta Charitable Trust, the Derek Hill Foundation, the Giles Worsley Fund (in collaboration with the RIBA), the Incorporated Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Scholarships, the Linbury Trust and the Nicholas Berwin Charitable Trust.


Josephine Baker-Heaslip (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture)

Chances, mixed media, dimensions variable; Mediterranean landscape, charcoal, chalk and pencil on paper, 70x100cm; The gift, charcoal, chalk and pencil on paper, 90x70cm; Question, chalk on tiles, 218x180cm


Stephen Cooper (Abbey Fellow in Painting)


Robway, mixed media, dimensions variable (photos: Stephen Cooper)


James Epps (Augusta Scholar)

Head over heels, paper tablecloths and wallpaper paste, dimensions variable


Emily Motto (Derek Hill Foundation Scholar)


Towers for Skies, cardboard, cement, wood, string, acrylic, steel, paper, tape, dimensions variable (photos: Emily Motto)


Patrick O’Keeffe (Giles Worsley Rome Fellow)

Eye-tracking goggles and recordings, HD Video; Loek-Historian-26 seconds, inkjet prints, 40x19cm (2 prints); Loek-Historian-26 seconds, 3D print and silver leaf, 65x12x18cm



John Robertson (Abbey Scholar in Painting)

St Bartholomew, acrylic on paper on canvas, 200x120cm; Buccone, acrylic on paper on canvas, 59.4x42cm; Swift, acrylic on paper on canvas and wall, 32x60cm


Jennifer Taylor (Creative Wales–BSR Fellow)

Lupercalia, photographs from live performance (photos: Micheal Snelling)


Dominic Watson (Rome Fellow in Contemporary Art)

Posso! Pronto! Prego!, HD video, stills from video; installation view (photo: Michael Snelling)


Photos by Roberto Apa unless otherwise indicated.


Softened by the strokes of Hephaistos: an interdisciplinary workshop on the archaeology, history and practice of glass

What is – and what was, historically – the significance of glass as an artistic material? What forms of knowledge are required for its making, and what aesthetic agency does it possess? These questions lie at the core of a workshop organised jointly by the British School at Rome’s Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters and its Faculty of the Fine Arts, led by Rosamond McKitterick and Vivien Lovell in collaboration with Hugo Chapman, the Simon Sainsbury Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum.

Writing about the legendary origins of glassmaking, naturalist Pliny the Elder reported that a group of merchants gathered on the Syrian sea-shore to cook their meal on a fire. As they could not find any stones to support their cauldrons, the men employed for the purpose some lumps of nitre which they had taken from the boat: ‘upon its being subjected to the action of the fire, in combination with the sand of the sea-shore, they beheld transparent streams flowing forth of a liquid hitherto unknown: this, it is said, was the origin of glass.’ (Natural History, Book 36:65)

Since its legendary beginnings, glass and its industry have provoked reflections about the complex intersections between technical and natural knowledge, aesthetics and artistic practice, trading networks and material culture. They therefore represented an ideal case study to inaugurate a brand-new series of BSR events on the historicity of materials. The Glass Study Day, held at the British Museum on 2 November 2017, brought together an interdisciplinary group of scientists, humanities scholars and artists to discuss the history, archaeology and practice of glassmaking and consumption from a variety of perspectives and to showcase research developed by BSR scholars and practitioners in this field.


The visual qualities of glass – its translucency, transparency and polychromy– make it an aesthetically appealing, yet challenging material to display. In a series of fascinating gallery talks, curators Hugo Chapman, Dora Thornton and Lesley Fitton, glassmakers Mark Taylor and David Hill, and BSR faculty members Rosamond McKitterick and Susan Walker, stimulated a dialogue about the aesthetics of glass across the Mediterranean from antiquity to the Renaissance, and about the different historical and cultural narratives that glass artefacts contribute to articulate as museum displays.


A fragile artistic material, glass naturally invites questions about its conservation and physical care. A visit to the British Museum’s Ceramics, Glass and Metals Conservation Studio and Scientific Research Laboratory, introduced by Andrew Meek and led by the museum’s conservation specialists, illustrated the practices and technologies available for the scientific study of vitreous artefacts, and for their restoration.


Following such close-up analysis of artefacts in the galleries and study rooms of the museum, in the afternoon our workshop participants gathered in the British Museum’s Stevenson Lecture Theatre for a final session of lectures open to the public. Following an introductory speech by BSR Director Stephen Milner, John Shepherd and John Mitchell respectively exposed the key contribution made by BSR scholars to the archaeology of glass, and the significance of glass excavations and study at the early medieval site of San Vincenzo in Volturno. Art historians Paul Hills and Stefania Gerevini turned to medieval portable artefacts and Renaissance paintings to illuminate the role played by glass and by other translucent materials in the definition of Venetian visual culture. They were followed by artists Antoni Malinowski and Liz Rideal, who bore witness to the enduring aesthetic potential of transparency and translucency by discussing their recent work with glass at the BSR and across the UK. Finally, material scientist Lindsay Greer surprised and charmed us all with his exposé on the material and chemical structures of glass – fun fact: who knew there was a frog that vitrifies in order to survive the chill of winter…


Stefania Gerevini (BSR Research Fellow and Assistant Professor of Art History at Bocconi University)

Photos by Claire Burridge.


December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists…Jennifer Taylor

This is the last in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. The final artist we interviewed was Jennifer Taylor, Creative Wales-BSR Fellow 2017-18, whose performance will take place at the opening of December Mostra at 20.00.

There seems to be a relationship in your practice between photography, sculpture and performance. Could you talk about that?

Throughout most of my practice there has always been the feature of the stage set. Previously, I used to create spaces, construct environments, and photograph the vacant ‘sets’. Recently though, there has been a shift in my practice and the focus has now moved from the curated ‘set’ to inhabiting and performing within the constructed stage.


Photo by Dave Daggers

A lot of your pieces present figures in different geographical locations. Is there a particular reason you chose to spend time in Rome?

Rome has become a very important city to me and has really influenced my practice. I am drawn to the intensity of the city and the architecture; the Baroque churches and the visual impact of frescos filling every surface.

Rome highlights to me the temporality of time. The city, with its vast number of existing remains, gives a very tangible link to the past through their proximity. I am particularly drawn to the apocalyptic timelessness of the ruins.

When planning my initial proposal for the residency, my original idea was to film inside the catacombs of Rome. However, physically being in Rome and talking with fellow residents has ignited a new very different idea.


Do you have any particular projects in mind?

Yes, since coming to the BSR I have been inspired and drawn to the Ancient Roman festival of the Lupercalia (this was an annual Roman festival which placated evil spirits and purified the city, bringing health and fertility).

I shall be performing my own live interpretation/re-enactment of this ancient ritual on the front steps of the BSR. I plan to recreate the lost Lupercal and the associated rituals.

How has being resident at the BSR informed your choice of project?

I initially became fascinated by the Lupercalia festival after the tour of the Forum with Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens. Discussion over teas and dinners with other residents at the BSR, in particular Kresimir Vukovic (Rome Fellow – working on early Roman mythology) has helped my idea develop and evolve.

This project will be a live performance at the mostra and I hope to involve other BSR residents in the performance. I think that having humanities scholars who have studied these ancient festivals participating in the performance will bring a very different energy to the show.

Your project seems to focus on festival, ritual and performance, tell us more…?

Festival and ritual have always fascinated me. Following a residency in Brazil last year, in the period leading up to the Carnival, I have been thinking about the ways that rituals and festivals can overturn society and reverse roles in the city during the festival period.
I am also interested in reconstructing rituals from the distant past that only exist in stories and legends.


What are you most looking forward to about performing in the Mostra?

I am excited about bringing different people together in a unique moment, where it is possible to step outside of normal familiar behaviour. I love the unpredictability of live performance and the new scenarios and relationships that emerge, in response to the audience and the tension of the live moment.

Jennifer’s performance will take place at 20.00 on the opening night of December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)



December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists…Stephen Cooper

This is the sixth in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. As part of this series looking at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architect, we interviewed Stephen Cooper, our 2017-18 Abbey Fellow.


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

Could you tell us how your practice has developed over the years/since coming to Rome?

I have been involved with Italian art at varying levels for a long time, starting from when I was a student. My journey has been from the Renaissance to the Baroque. As a student I was very interested in Giotto, Fra Angelico and Titian amongst many others.

One of the pieces that has been very important to me are the frescos by Fra Angelico in the cells of the Convent of San Marco in Florence. I have visited these cells for many years and they have been a significant part of my adapting and changing my process and evaluating my ways of working. In a sense this is a site-specific work painted on the walls, so it is responding to the space and also the architecture as well as the narratives within the frescos.

The thing that I am interested in is specific responses to a site that engage with and illicit specific approaches. This has become a really important part of my research and where I have found commonality with lots of artists, but the Matisse chapel at Vance is a place that crystallised my thoughts and practice. The architecture of the chapel had become an essential and inclusive element of the making of the chapel. One of the many things I learnt from this was that Matisse had taken the constituents of painting and re-assembled in the interior of this chapel  in a new and exciting way and as it was as if you had become a character within one of his paintings whilst sitting and looking at this space he had created. So for me the questions of time and space were being extended.

While resident at the BSR, the consequence of being in Rome is the inevitable dialogues with history. So being  in the BSR community and all that that entails, and at the same time being submerged in Rome is complex and exciting. My own approach is through immersion. Immersion in Rome and Italy and in experimentation in the studio. However, a period of reflection will be needed to digest and understand what I have done whilst here for three months.

How has your project changed and developed since coming to Rome?

My initial proposal for the BSR was to look at Borromini and Caravaggio, but the phenomenon of Rome has overtaken me and the project has expanded. I think the idea of transformation has been fundamental in this process. You hope that you will do something here that you have not done before, or that you will attempt to change your practice and perhaps do those things that you have never had the opportunity to do before, so for me the experimentation has been great. However the emphasis is on changing and developing.

I have been including things from everyday life – the things that you can see in the street. For example incorporating the Limoncello bottles from a stall and the gloves in a shop. I like to try and mix things up and to use  imagery to form a broken narrative, which then comes together to form a whole. In a way I am interested in wholeness in this project – something that I am working towards in my practice, rather than hitting straight away.


Limoncello bottles (Photo: Stephen Cooper)


Gloves in a shop (Photo: Stephen Cooper)

The idea of working as a whole is to do with making the space and the things in it find a convincing relationship with one and other. relate to one another.  Physically and mentally I adjust to the space, and this process transforms the work. The idea of chaos is very much there at the beginning and then changes into a disjointed order. This is to do with the idea of perfect/imperfect which I am very interested in and part of.

One of the key reasons as to why my proposal has changed is because of the sites that I have visited. I have visited Santa Maria della Vittoria (the Bernini Ecstasy of Saint Theresa). The thing is that the Baroque is so complex and so multi that it becomes quite fascinating. What I have found is that it takes time and contemplation within the space to understand how it works. With the Baroque you have to really look at the space, see what it is actually doing, the decoration and how the sculptures and painting work in the space. There is a good degree of analysis of the space to be done. This has also been my experience at San Carlo alle Quatro Fontane and Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza as well, both of which are phenomenal buildings.


San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (Photo: Stephen Cooper)


Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (Photo: Stephen Cooper)

In researching Caravaggio I have gone inside churches; both the Caravaggios that I have been looking at are inside churches – Santa Maria del Popolo and San Luigi dei Francesi (with the Caravaggio triptych). Whilst studying the  Caravaggios, I have also been struck by the phenomena of the churches, which has also been attractive to me in terms of the Baroque.

In previous exhibitions your work has reacted directly to the space in which it has been shown. Has the work you have been producing here been in reaction to any specific place?

For my studio installation, I am going to respond to most aspects of the architecture of the room and to  incorporate them into the space.


Studio shot (Photo: Stephen Cooper)


Studio shot (Photo: Stephen Cooper)

But I am also looking forward to making a fresh piece for the mostra in the gallery. Both pieces will respond to the specific space. I am a little apprehensive about what I have set for myself and will probably be with it till the last moment.

What made you decide to do a studio installation as well as a piece in the gallery?

It is my way of working. For the last ten years I have responded to the site, the site has been the primary basis for the work. But it is always together with the studio practice. The studio practice is the engine and powers the work. Generally you go to a site and respond to it in a way that complements the practice.

Going to Japan, visiting the Kyoto temples and seeing the relationship between the inside and the outside is so fascinating; the window becomes a picture, and the outside is manipulated to match the inside. This experience completely propelled my interest in architecture forward.

You have incorporated a lot of photos into your work, can you tell us more about the images you have chosen?

I collect images, and I specifically collect images that then become part of pieces. There is a sort of language involved, I often alter the images and transform/translate their meaning.

I never know what I am going to take, but I take photographs all the time. That is why I say that I collect images. In both the process of taking the photo and also after in review, you question your consciousness. Often when searching through a lens you take things that you were not looking for, but there is a part of the thinking and seeing that recognises something. So in the reviewing process you step back and look and think…what is that…that is really interesting or not, as the case maybe??

I choose the images intuitively from my database of images, put them together and see if they work. I like the idea of space and volume and their meaning. The contrast of this gloved hand and the relationship between the images which also coincides with my interest in the relationship between art and life. I see my work as a visual form of poetry.

What have you enjoyed most about being in Rome?

I have really enjoyed being in this community and the amount of shared information and knowledge. Here, you are constantly involved with conversations and you cannot help but soak up knowledge. After watching La Grande Bellezza in the BSR film club, it seems more than likely that the great beauty is Rome.

My ambition with artwork is to have a very close relationship with the audience and to try and make work from the heart which, I believe is something in common with poetry. It has been a really fantastic opportunity from the Abbey Council to be here at the British School in Rome and I am really grateful for it.

Stephen’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)

December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… James Epps

This is the fourth in our series of blog posts leading up to the December Mostra, our first exhibition of this academic year. As part of this series looking at the individual practices of our seven resident artists and resident architect, we interviewed James Epps, our 2017-18 Augusta Scholar. 


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

There is a use of ‘unconventional’ materials in your works/installations. Would you agree?

For me they are not unconventional. At present in the studio I am using coloured paper tablecloths to make these wall drawings. Paper tablecloths are a material that most people will have encountered in Rome, they are not uncommon as such, it’s just that the context is different when used to make a drawing. I wanted to use a material that I had encountered in Rome, rather than bringing a material from my studio back home, so they make sense as a material to work with for me.

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Studio shot (Photo: James Epps)

I wanted to use a material that was here in abundance, that was commonplace, not something that is particularly specialist. It’s along the same lines of Arte Povera, where they would use potentially any material, often something quite cheap and very accessible. So in Italy there is this idea of using commonplace materials that are not traditional fine art materials, but the most appropriate materials for the work being made.

A paper tablecloth isn’t permanent, on a table you can spill wine and then it gets thrown away and a new one is got out for the next person. I like this quality that they are not meant to last, they are meant to be thrown away. The work I have been making in the studio and will show for the mostra, is site-specific, it will only be there for the duration of the show, then it will disappear. In a sense I am using the tablecloth in a way that is similar to how it is used on the street, at a table.

When looking in different shops in Rome and deciding what material to use I was really struck by the colours of the tablecloths. They were very easy to choose as they stood out in the shop above all the other things. It was an instinctive choice to go for them, then I began to think about the material in different ways, the qualities that it holds.

They are very quick and easy to make things with. I have been cutting them and using wallpaper paste to put them onto the walls. When I put them up, I do it in quite a quick way so that you get the wrinkles, you can see where they have been cut and torn, so both the speed of making and the materiality is visible there in the work once it is on the wall.

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Studio shot (Photo: James Epps)

I will not take any of the work home after the mostra, except for a few samples as a record. For me it is quite important that it just exists for a certain amount of time and only in that space. I don’t want to try and prolong it, I am interested in the finite moment of the work.

Have you already thought about what you will present at the December Mostra? Will there be an installation that will be a reaction to the space itself?

I have been doing lots of different trials and experiments in the studio, and seeing how I could work with the material, what it does and what might be possible. Looking in the gallery space helped quite a lot, visualising a particular context.


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Studio shot (Photo: James Epps)

Working with dimensions of the architectural features, and using a particular feature of the gallery means that I can repeat a pattern that mirrors the space. Going into the gallery and looking at the space has been completely integral to what I am going to make, I very much had the idea only after seeing the space.

The exhibition will be the first time the work exists. A lot of my work exists beforehand as paper plans and tests, but it will never exist or come together fully until I install in the space. There is always an unknown element until I make the work in-situ.

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Studio shot (Photo: James Epps)

Artists like Sol LeWitt in the past have spent quite a bit of time in Italy. Are there any specific artists that you are currently looking into during your stay in Rome that have passed through Italy/have had experience in Italy?

I have been looking into LeWitt’s work in Italy, he had a house in Spoleto and a lot of fresco painters informed his work. However, I think the thing that you can really see in his work made in Italy, is the use of colour.

Other artists who have previously worked here have said that in Italy they really wanted the colour to come through in what they made. There is a sense of life and excitement in these colours, which are qualities that you encounter in Rome. Colour has always been integral in my work, so this hasn’t necessarily just come from being in Rome, but it definitely feels pertinent to being here.

Before I came to the BSR I had been very conscious of Robert Rauschenberg’s time spent working around Italy and the Mediterranean, even though it was just for a relatively short period in his career. Seeing some of the iconic works he made, especially the photographs taken in the Capitoline Museums of the head of Constantine and his photos in Venice, you get the idea of his excitement of exploring Italy coming through the different images.

Robert Rauschenberg also made the Feticci Personali, which he installed in the Pincio Gardens, just across the park from the BSR. Being conscious of that work, which he made in such proximity to where we are based is difficult to ignore. He installed this work in the gardens, which was only ever going to be there for a brief moment. There is a spontaneity which feels very relevant to the way I make my work, going somewhere new and letting the environment inform what I make and, for me, really soaking up the city.

Have you visited many different sites while you have been resident here at the BSR? Are there any that have particularly inspired you?

Visiting the Etruscan Necropolis at Tarquinia was probably the most memorable visit that I’ve had so far, seeing the incredible painted Etruscan tombs. Some are figurative and some have mythological scenes, but they also use a lot of geometric patterns and colour banding. These paintings, despite being 2,500 years old, look very fresh and there was such a sense of life to them. The way that they were made also looks very quick and very free and those kinds of qualities definitely struck me. All the tombs are underground, down a dark staircase, and you have to press a little light to illuminate them, making it quite a theatrical experience. This visit has stuck with me, both because it was an experience that was quite alien to me and also the quality of the paintings they made.

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Etruscan Necropolis at Tarquinia, Tomb of the Leopards (Photo: James Epps)

You mention you are interested in patterns, have you looked at any of the mosaics in Rome?

In my project proposal I said that I would look at the mosaics at the Baths of Caracalla and also at Segni. Unfortunately it’s not possible to see the mosaics at Segni, but after discussing these mosaics with BSR Archaeology Officer, Stephen Kay, he told me of a similar interesting mosaic at the Villa of the Papyri, at Herculaneum. I was able to get a permit to visit this site thanks to Permissions Officer, Stefania Peterlini. It was incredible to see this mosaic preserved in such amazing condition and to see the original colours. The experience of having a guide to take me in on my own was incredible as I was able to encounter this mosaic still in the villa context without ropes and other people. 

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Tesserae mosaic in the Villa dei Papiri (Photo: James Epps)

Seeing mosaics in their original context was something I was very keen to do here in Italy, as opposed to seeing them in museums, where they are up on a wall, like a painting, rather than on the floor where they were intended to be encountered.

Seeing all the fantastic mosaics in churches, like the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, where every surface is covered with something, was incredible, opus sectile mosaics alongside Byzantine mosaics. It was really incredible seeing that intensity of artworks and decoration in one space.

How have you found working in the BSR community?

Going around Rome with different artists has been really good, seeing how other artists look at the city, as well as going with them to places that I might not otherwise think to visit myself.

My most fun trip to a church, probably in my whole life, was with Patrick O’Keeffe (Giles Worsley Rome Fellow) to San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, where I was part of an experiment he was conducting for his research, trying on eye-tracking goggles which track the specific route a person’s eyes follow within a space. There are some similarities between my work and what he is doing, how the eye engages with architecture and artworks, so it was a really interesting insight into how he approaches these questions from the perspective of an architect.

Being at the BSR feels like sitting down with twenty of the best tour guides in Rome for breakfast! To get a sense of the other award-holders’ and staff members’ enthusiasm for different places in Rome and their knowledge is very special.


James’ work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the December Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 15 December 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 December 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Alice Marsh (Communications & Events)