BSR summer summary

As the summer draws to a close, we reflect on the hard work and events that have gone on at the BSR over the summer months, and look forward to the advent of a new academic year ahead.

An exciting new addition to our facilities inaugurated the summer at the BSR – we were delighted to add a new fully-facilitated flat to our residence. As a result, we were able to host three more researchers over the course of the summer. The creation of the new flat coincides with the re-organisation of our office space over the past few months: our finance, communications and administration have recently been relocated in spacious new offices, and we now have new lab facilities for our archaeologists.

A huge thank you and congratulations to our brilliant Library team, who worked tirelessly over the summer on the annual update of the Library collection. This task saw some 100,000 volumes accounted for, and our ever-growing collection was reordered, ready for the return of our Library members in September.

Library Summer

The super Library team hard at work on the annual summer update

Each summer, the BSR welcomes back into its fold former Fine Arts award-holders to make use of the studio space. In addition this year we hosted three artists on the Mead Rome PhD Studio Residency (in collaboration with University of the Arts London) as well as one David & Mary Forshaw Newcastle Residency. Many of the artists opened up their studios to other residents and staff to take a peak at their work in progress.


The first half of September saw another successful Summer School. Each year, a group of undergraduate students studying Ancient History, Archaeology and Classics join us for an intensive two-week course led by Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens, and Ed Bispham (Rome Scholar Humanities 1994–5). Each day’s visits took on a different theme, preceded by an introductory lecture at the BSR, and covering various elements of the city and its surroundings. The students left Rome with a comprehensive understanding of the city under their belts, after a fantastic fortnight – not even a biblical deluge at Tivoli’s Villa Adriana could dampen their spirits! Thanks to the tireless efforts of Robert, Ed and Stefania Peterlini (Permissions Officer), the group gained privileged access to a vast range of Rome’s most fascinating sites, and many commented that the course will continue to inspire them throughout their studies.

summer school 2017

2017 Summer School group with Robert Coates-Stephens and Ed Bispham (photo by Antonio Palmieri)

Meanwhile in Pompeii BSR Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay and his team and colleagues from the Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Doctores y Licenciados en Letras y Ciencias de Valencia y Castellòn, Departamento de Arqueologia and the Museo de Prehistoria e Historia de La Diputación De Valencia completed the final season of excavation at Porta Nola (Pompeii) — you can find out more about the latest discoveries in our previous blog.

The summer concluded with a visit from a group of members of the Attingham Trust. The Trust offers specialised courses on historic houses, their collections and settings, and on the history and contents of English royal palaces. This year their Study Programme came to Rome for the first time and was organised by former award-holder Dr Andrew Moore (Paul Mellon Rome Fellow  2006-7) in association with the BSR. The participants — curators, architects and art collectors — have visited several palazzi and villas in Rome and Naples as part of their ‘Attingham Grand Tour’. We were  thrilled to welcome back to the BSR, as a participant of this study programme, Allison Goudie (Rome Award 2012-13) who since her BSR award has worked in various roles at the National Gallery and the National Trust.

The group were treated to a lecture by BSR Director Christopher Smith, and a tour of the Library and Archives, including some closed access material relating to the Grand Tour.

Library Tour

The Attingham Study group view rare books in the Library (photo by Antonio Palmieri)



The Attingham Study group (photo by Antonio Palmieri)

The evening concluded with a lively dinner, bringing the BSR dining room back to full capacity after the summer months. This special dinner was also the first in residence for incoming Director Stephen Milner, who formally steps into the position at the beginning of October — benvenuto Stephen! We look forward to the start of the new academic year and the exciting programme of events to come.


Il Palio dell’Assunta

In April, it was revealed that the winning flag – or drappellone – for the August Palio di Siena would be painted by Sinta Tantra, who was residing at the BSR at the time as our 2016—17 Bridget Riley Fellow. After months of preparation and research and many trips to Siena, the drappellone was presented at Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico, and six days later claimed by Onda (Wave), the victorious contrada (district) of the race. Here we take a look at a week in the world of Palio.

While the elements that are to be included in each drappellone — the symbols of the competing contrade, the symbols of the city and government, the image of the Madonna — are always featured, the design, colours and content of the drappellone was shrouded in secrecy. Only a small handful of people were allowed to see the flag in its various stages of development before its presentation in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena, six days before the race. Each drappellone has a theme, and Sinta was charged with dedicating her flag to the Sienese sculptor Giovanni Duprè to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth. The drappellone is hugely coveted by each contrada, and the victorious district which claims it as their own hangs it with pride in their own museum.

On the evening of 10 August, Sinta joined a panel of the Palio committee to present her drappellone to the press and the people of Siena. The Mayor of Siena, Bruno Valentini, was the first to introduce the drappellone. He commented,

‘In the era of Brexit, the choice of a British artist corresponds to the desire to keep the ties between our city and the United Kingdom strong, and to seal a historic and cultural link which must not weaken. I therefore thank the ambassador of the United Kingdom, Jill Morris, a great friend of Siena, for the collaboration with the artist which she presented to us’.

You can read the full text of his speech (in Italian) here.


Mayor of Siena Bruno Valentini presents the drappellone.

The art historian Margherita Anselmi Zondadari, who acted as a mentor to Sinta throughout the process, then explained the artist’s practice, the inspirations behind the design, and the various elements of the drappellone. You can read the full text of the speech (in Italian) here.


The ‘drappellone’ designed and painted by Sinta Tantra

The arc of painted circles at the top of the flag represent the barberi, wooden or earthenware balls, whose colours indicate the contrada to which they belong; top-centre is the Madonna dell’Assunta, to whom the August Palio is dedicated, and who takes her form from that of the Madonna in the stained-glass window above the altar in Siena’s Duomo; the architectural elements are inspired by a fresco from the Piccolomini library, and by a 1971 drappellone which also took inspiration from this fresco; below the arch are the contrasting energies and elements of the moon and the sun; the central figure depicts Saffo Abbandonata, a sculpture by Duprè, which happened to be located in the archives of the BSR’s neighbour, the Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Moderna; the symbols of the city and government are shown on the band below; the bottom section is a recreation of the paved floor of the Duomo. The drappellone combines the traditional elements of the city and the festival with Sinta’s contemporary style and the bright, bold colours that are characteristic of her work.

Sinta gave the third and final speech, in which she thanked those who had supported her throughout the process and reflected on the time she had spent in Siena and the impression the city and the Palio had made on her.

Drappellone presentation

Sinta delivers her speech to the Comune. To the right is art historian Margherita Anselmi Zondadari

Saturday marked the day on which the pool of horses put forward to run is narrowed down from around 40 to the final ten. A spell of rain meant that all those who had arrived at the piazza at 5 a.m. eager to see the first test runs were turned away disappointed, returning in the afternoon once the track was dry.


Lining up for the first test-run

In the three days following the selection of the ten horses for the Palio, two prove (trials) take place each day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Shortly after the first prova, the Mayor conducts a lottery which assigns a horse to each contrada. The test runs of the previous day meant that the best-performing horses were highly sought-after, and each assignation was greeted with cheers or groans by the respective contrade. Once the horses are assigned, each contrada sets about trying to obtain the best possible jockey and forming alliances amongst themselves: if they cannot win, the next best result is that their rival contrada lose.

Palio lottery

Crowds gather for the lottery assigning a horse to each contrada

A great deal of Italian media attention is given to the Palio, and during the days in between the unveiling of the drappellone and the race, Sinta was interviewed for various media outlets. Click here to read some of the features on the drappellone from the Italian press.

On Monday, with two days to go before the race, the drappellone was carried from the Comune to the Duomo in the corteo storico, a procession through the streets of Siena of drummers, trumpeters and flag-bearers, all in traditional medieval costume. Once at the Duomo, a service took place in which each contrada and then the drappellone were blessed.


The procession (corteo storico) which leads in the drappellone

On Tuesday evening the prova generale took place. Being the day before the Palio, the jockeys take care not to push the horses too much in this trial. This prova also features a display by the mounted carabinieri. A formal dinner in each contrada follows the prova generale, and in the competing contrade speeches are made by the priore, capitano and fantino (jockey).


The mounted carabinieri in the prova generale. Photo by Alessia Bruchi via

On the morning of 16 August – Palio day – the final prova was run and the jockeys were blessed in a mass which took place outside the Palazzo Pubblico. Shortly after this, the drappellone was retrieved from the Duomo and taken to the Comune in another procession of drums and trumpets. In the meantime, each horse was taken into the church of its respective contrada to be blessed in advance of the race.


The blessing of the horse in the church of the contrada of Selva

The grand event began in the late afternoon. For around two hours, another corteo storico featuring musicians, flag-displays from all the contrade (not just those competing) and the mounted carabinieri paraded around the piazza, with the final circuit before the horse race featuring Sinta’s drappellone pulled on a carriage by four enormous oxen.

After so much build-up and anticipation, it all came down to the horse race. Tensions rose as the starting line-up was determined by a lottery, and the excitement of the horses meant that the line-up had to be disbanded and reformed several times before they were controlled enough to start. The tenth contrada to be drawn from the lottery stands a short distance behind the other horses, and determines when the race starts. This jockey therefore aims to start at the moment that is most advantageous for their own contrada and those it is allied with.

The race, which lasts just some 70 seconds, was this time won by Onda (Wave) – an unexpected victory, and a first-time win for both the horse and jockey. Madness ensued in the piazza, with huge celebrations by Onda and the drappellone victoriously claimed and paraded through the streets, first to the Duomo and then to Onda’s church, carried by a mass of cheering, singing and crying contradaioli.

In the end it was very fitting that Onda should win, as Duprè, to whom the drappellone was dedicated, belonged to the contrada of Onda! Many who congratulated Sinta told her with delight Duprè è tornato a casa – Duprè has returned home.


Sinta raised aloft in the celebrations in the church of Onda

Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

A look back at the June Mostra 2017

In June the BSR saw the third and final Mostra of our 2016–17 programme. Our seven Fine Arts award-holders put together a brilliant exhibition of works produced during the course of their residencies. Here we bring you a selection of Roberto Apa’s fantastic photographs of the Mostra works. You can read more about the practice of each artist by clicking on their name.

The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the support of The Bridget Riley Foundation, the Helpmann Academy, The Incorporated Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Scholarships, The Linbury Trust, The National Art School, Sydney, and the William Fletcher Foundation.


Chris Browne (William Fletcher Foundation Scholar)

Clockwise from top left: Carrara, oil on canvas, 45 x 85 cm; Portrait Study, oil on canvas, 32 x 30 cm; Sub, oil on canvas, 26 x 54 cm.


Gary Deirmendjian (National Art School, Sydney, Resident)


Clockwise from top-left: gripping, lead, 20 x 26 x 16 cm; skull & bones, lead, 30 x 29.5 cm;  classica, lead, 30 x 29 cm; tendency – BSR theatre wall, thread and tape, 975 x 300 cm.


Peter McDonald (Abbey Fellow in Painting)

Clockwise from top: Kiss, A4, acrylic and gouache on paper; Volpetti, A4,
acrylic and gouache on paper; Dinner, BSR, A4, acrylic and gouache on paper.


Catherine Parsonage (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture)

Clockwise from top-left: Carry me from Garbo’s, Indian ink, pastel, oil pastel on
fabriano paper in perspex frame, 66 x 111 cm; Campari Spring, coloured pencil, pastel, watercolour on fabriano paper in perspex frame, 66 x 111 cm; sticky as an ant, and
shining like a hothouse flower, acrylic on canvas, 85 x 120 cm.


Kate Power (Helpmann Academy Resident)

Insidious distance, timber, cardboard, bubble wrap, papier mache, gesso, paint, fabric,
dimensions variable.


Catherine Parsonage and Kate Power


a condition for doing things together, single channel video, 20 mins 11 secs.


Sinta Tantra (The Bridget Riley Fellow)


Tuca Tuca – Spring Time in Rome, tempera on linen, 130 x 180 cm.


Vivien Zhang (Abbey Scholar in Painting)


Bonbon circuit, mixed media on canvas, 122 x 102 cm.

All photos by Roberto Apa

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Catherine Parsonage

There are still three days left to see the fantastic show put together by our resident artists for the June Mostra! In the final instalment of the Meet the artists blog series, we spoke to Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture, Catherine Parsonage, about her residency and how her practice has changed over the course of the past nine months.


Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Catherine Parsonage uses painting and sculpture to pursue the ultimate reduction of the female form, condensing the body to its most elementary essence through single deft lines. The drawings and paintings carefully choreograph the body as the fashion photographer might its subject, creating a distilled mis-en-scene, where the subtle shifts in weight and angle are imbued with movement and poise.

With this being your third Mostra, you have by now worked alongside three different groups of artists with very different practices. Have you noticed your work changing in response to this? If so, how?

Every three months when the new artists arrive an entirely new energy is exchanged at the BSR. I think that watching and understanding how different artists approach their work but perhaps more importantly their time at the BSR has been really valuable. I think I am still absorbing a lot from my first three months here where the conversations and relationships I had shifted everything about my approach to painting; similarly recent conversations have encouraged me to work through my ideas in other mediums.

In the past few months, you have been collaborating with artists both inside and outside the BSR. How did these projects came about, and are these collaborations are a new practice for you?

Yes, they are a new practice for me, the collaborations and conversations I have been part of during the last few months have been so nourishing for my approach to thinking and making. The exhibition FULL FOR IT with Tomaso de Luca and the process of making the video a condition for doing things together with Kate Power have resulted in work I am not only excited by but which I know will have a huge impact in the future.


Still of video installation ‘a condition for doing things together’ by Catherine Parsonage and Kate Power.

Artist Celine Condorelli cites in her work on the politics of friendship this beautiful quote by Bertrand, which comes to mind when I think about these relationships and collaborations:

The main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things, are knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship or affection.

In your last interview, you mentioned that you have been working with stained glass. How did you go on with that in the last three months?

Some of the smaller pieces have in fact just arrived in the studio, and I think they will be exhibited in Italy in late Autumn. The development and production of the stained glass pieces has been a long process: the initial ideas and drawings have had to be constantly adapted through conversation and tests with Paolo Corpetti, the artisan I have been working with. There has been a reciprocal push and pull to find a balance between the vision for the work and the potential and limitations of the materials themselves; I think this is one of the most significant elements of these exchanges – for example even seeing the pieces in my studio this week has shifted how I will install and treat them and this forced fluidity is a welcome challenge.

Do you feel an affinity with these new mediums – performance,  glass, printmaking– and do you think you will explore them further after your residency?

Definitely, I think I am still processing my thoughts about the video a condition for doing things together with Kate Power: the piece involves a single shot of Kate and I at dawn wearing these stilt-like pointed shoes which we made from pieces of wood left around the workshop; the experience of performing in these shoes – of falling, struggling, supporting one another was an incredibly intense, rich and new one for me. Kate and I will continue to work together and in this performative manner in the future.

With all the other 2016-17 residencies ending at the end of June, the next three months at the BSR will no doubt have a very different atmosphere to work in. Can you anticipate how this might affect your work? Do you know yet how you intend to use that time, which will be more open-ended than the October—June period?

The residency thus far has been an intense time of change for my work, I hope that the upcoming months will provide a quieter moment to digest and reflect on these shifts and to process the immense visual fullness one experiences in Rome.  I will be spending these months working towards solo shows in London and Italy later in the year.

Catherine’s work is currently being exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Kate Power

Last Thursday saw the opening of this year’s June Mostra, and it was a great pleasure to see the work of our resident artists brought together for a fantastic exhibition. Here we give you an insight into the practice of Helpmann Academy Resident Kate Power, who discusses here the process behind her Mostra pieces.


Kate Power. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Kate Power embraces video, performance, textiles, sculpture and installation to investigate enforced social constructs that can complicate the way people relate to one another. Power observes social interactions to consider how seemingly insignificant moments have psychological and physiological impacts. These ideas form a framework to consider humour, loneliness, uncertainty and suppressed desire. Through a lens of queer and feminist theories, Power considers modes of generating knowledge through observing everyday experiences and making processes.

What will you be showing in the Mostra?

I’m showing a work of three sculptures. The forms are made from things I’ve accumulated here, like packaging I don’t need anymore and things I’ve found in the workshop, and covered with layers of gesso and paint. The process of making the forms has been ongoing over my residency and I think reflects things I’ve noticed about Rome. I’ve been interested in movement and gesture in sculpture and the way the architecture is layered, changing form and adding new parts onto old structures. Making these works has been a process of adding and taking over time. It’s a development of my usual process that has been inspired by being here and observing the layers and textures of the city.


Part of your practice involves ‘observing everyday experiences’ – how does being at the BSR, and in Rome more generally, feed into that?

These works seem to embody a feeling or reaction and I think they are responses to lots of things I’ve been seeing and experiencing here but also the intimate social environment of the BSR. It’s been interesting living in such close living quarters with other artists and scholars. I think being in a country where I don’t speak the language and you feel like a foreigner increases my awareness of the kind of otherness I think about in relation to feeling alienated or distanced from other people. That space and the ways people intercept it are what interests me and I think being here has made me more sensitive to this, so I’ve drawn on it in new ways.

How has working alongside this group of artists and scholars impacted your work?

I’ve connected with another artist here, Catherine Parsonage, and we’ve made a collaborative work together. Our ideas cross over and we’d been having lots of conversations that led to kind of embodying the conversations we were having, or perhaps embodying the process of communication. Spending time with the scholars has made me see things from other perspectives too and knowing about their projects has certainly informed the way I approach looking at history. Thinking about layers and the way things develop on top of one another actually started from walking around with a scholar here who was talking about the way new structures were added on to existing buildings and so a lot of the architecture is an amalgamation over time. I liked this idea for thinking about human interactions and the moments that build up in people to shape the way they see things or even the way they hold their body.


Still of video installation by Kate Power and Catherine Parsonage.

Which spaces in Rome – either public spaces, museums, or galleries – have been of particular interest to you?

Since I arrived I’ve been drawn to the empty apses on the outsides of buildings. Something about these spaces that seem designed for something that isn’t there has stayed on my mind. Something about absence but with an implied object or thing is compelling to me. My work centres on non-specific connections that impact on people in subtle ways and I think something about these elusive spaces has provoked my thinking about things in between, a kind of engagement and non-engagement. Also I have the desire to put my sculptures in them. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at sculpture. Not in a particular gallery but I’ve been drawn to certain gestures like hands holding objects and reaching behind, covering bodies.


Have you been experimenting with new techniques or new mediums since being at the BSR?

The technique or wrapping things together to make forms isn’t new to me but layering plaster and paint the way I have on these sculptures is new. I wanted to expose layers underneath while still applying more layers and also give a kind of humourous reference to marble. When I came here I wanted to do marble carving but given the time restraints I wasn’t able to do a course. I took some close up photos of marble and I think the new process I’ve developed might look as if it’s trying to pose as marble.

Looking ahead, do you have any projects lined up for when you return to Australia?

I expect I’ll be working with my experiences in Rome for a while. I’ve done a lot of drawing and planning for new works while I’ve been here and I anticipate I’ll turn that into a body of work when I go home. I would like to expand these sculptures into a larger installation and I also have some plans for wall hangings, curtains and videos.

Kate’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

All photos by Kate Power.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists… Peter McDonald

The final Mostra of works by our 2016–17 artists-in-residence will open at the BSR this evening. For a taste of what to expect from the exhibition, we bring you our latest interview, this time with Abbey Fellow in Painting, Peter McDonald. Here Peter discusses the works he will be showing in the June Mostra, the process behind them, and how being in Italy has shaped his practice during the past three months.

Peter McDonald

Peter McDonald. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Peter McDonald’s paintings depict a colourful world inhabited by people engaged in everyday activities. Images of teachers, hairdressers, chefs, shopkeepers or scholars are constructed with an elementary graphic language. They have a cartoon like simplicity and waver at the point where figuration might tip at any moment into abstraction. Human forms veer towards the geometric; circles stand in for heads, flat planes describe rooms and crude poses denote narrative. Yet these simplifications appear to create a community of superhumans living in a world that has a harmonious transparency.

What will you be showing in the mostra and can you explain the process behind the works and how they came about?

I’ll be showing about 25 works on paper, A4 size, painted with this acrylic gouache paint, which is water-based, which I buy in Japan – but then I found some interesting colours in an art shop in Rome too – and then six of these cigarette box works.

You have to lift up the lid then flick the front part down. I’ve been making these boxes for years – I showed them in an exhibition in Japan [at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa] and even then I’d been making these for a while. They ended up going to bookshops, bakers, hairdressers, record shops, places like that. So it’s something that I do when I travel. Altogether I’ve probably made between 45 and 50 of them.

Do you ever match up what you paint inside of the box with the images on the outside?

Yes, sometimes – for example, one cigarette box had a photo of smoke being blown onto a baby’s face on the outside, and inside I painted a couple kissing, in a very romantic and idealised scene in contrast to the outer image.


Painted cigarette box by Peter McDonald. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

With this one, I collected some bits of broken glass from the street outside, and turned it into a contemporary art piece in the scene inside this box, and then a shaving from a pencil-sharpener became a sculpture.


Gallery scene inside a cigarette box. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

There will be six of these boxes in the mostra, and they’re going to be on little shelves placed throughout the exhibition.

The images come about from my daily life, so I walk around with this pocket-sized sketchbook, and inside I quickly sketch ideas, and that’s the starting point for my paintings. Some of them don’t make it out of the sketchbook. They’re just little moments that I see in my daily life and that I think might translate well into my painted world. I often find that the process of painting reveals more information about the subject, and gives it more sense or makes it more interesting, and I just follow it through.


Scenes of daily life in Rome by Peter McDonald in the BSR exhibition space. photo by Ellie Johnson.

With your paintings looking at ‘people engaged in everyday activities’ – how has the context of the BSR, and Rome more generally, fed into this?

Being in Rome and at the BSR has fed into my work, but quite subtly. It isn’t reflected so much on the surface in terms of the imagery, but it has had an effect more internally, and that will probably start seeping through later. Being in Rome has allowed me to visit sites and cities which have given me a sense of the historical and artistic lineage: going from Pompeii to Palazzo Massimo and seeing the frescoes, then on to Venice, Florence and Siena, and after that Arezzo and Assisi and Perugia. I really felt the lineage of history and how imagery and techniques were developing, especially in the depiction of space, which I have always been interested in, and which was one of the reasons why I wanted to come to Rome in the first place. So it’s been more than I expected, really. Also, using the Library at the BSR for books which talk about the development of space in paintings, from Roman times to the Renaissance, has been a really good thing to be doing in the evenings – I can read up about it, and then process it when I’m working the next day.

As your residency is relatively short at just three months long, how have you divided your time between being inside the studio and being outside of the BSR, engaging with the city and with Italy?

It’s been a challenge but in a good way. From the beginning I knew that I should try and think about how to divide the time, and at first I was actually thinking, if I can’t make any work then I will give priority to being in Rome seeing places and visiting places, and then if I can make some work, I will at least make some sketches or some notes. As it happens, I have managed to do enough: I’m happy with the work that I’ve made, and also I’ve managed to visit so many places. There are still two or three places I’d like to visit before I go – Cortona, Tarquinia and Ostia, if I can.

Since being in Rome, have you come across any new styles or mediums or techniques that you’d like to pursue after your residency?

In terms of materials, just these acrylic paints which I found in Rome. The fresco workshop was something I’ve always wanted to know more about, but I don’t know If that’s something I would go back to in my practice. However, it will help me understand frescoes a bit more when I see them now, and understand how difficult the process is.

Have you found that working alongside artists who have very diverse practices to your own impacts upon your work?

This studio is great, because it’s your own space and it’s very quiet, which allows me to just get into my own work. But it has been good to be alongside artists every day, and to see what they’re doing and the variety of different practices has been really interesting. Especially in comparison to London, where the other artists you interact with tend to be doing similar things in terms of art, so it has been really refreshing to see different practices.

Has the interdisciplinary nature of the BSR, working alongside scholars as well as other artists, influenced your work? 

With the scholars, it’s been good to hear their lectures and hear how they think about things, because that’s definitely something that I don’t have much access to in London – people doing PhDs, researching classics or history… there’s no way that I would normally meet people like that when I’m based in my studio in London. I’ve found that to be really interesting, and perhaps it will come out in my painting somehow.

Peter’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson (Communications & Events)

June Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists … Vivien Zhang

We caught up with our Abbey Scholar in Painting, Vivien Zhang, for whom the June Mostra will be her third exhibition at the BSR. Here she reflects upon her residency  and how being in Rome has had an impact upon her practice.


Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Vivien Zhang’s work looks at the idea of repetition and painting as a site for assemblage. Context-specific motifs, such as the mathematical shape gömböc and aluminium foil, enact as well as interrupt fields of repetition. Layering in Zhang’s work often simulates algorithms found in digital imaging software – an approach influenced by our ways of engaging with visual material today. Zhang explores through her work our expanding accessibility to images and information today, our shifting authorship and authority over such materials, and our increasing re-identification as trans-border inhabitants.

What will you be showing in the Mostra?

Trompe l’oeil! This is a preparatory drawing for the painting I’m showing in the Mostra-ultimo:


Preparatory drawing for Vivien’s June Mostra painting.

Has working in Rome stimulated any new projects in Italy for you outside of the BSR?

Definitely. I did a show called All As Long Distance Neighbours in a seaside town in Pescara, Abruzzo, at a new project space called SOYUZ. This was curated by Italian curator Marialuisa Pastò. And… a show at this absolutely out-of-this-world site in Tuscany, called Monteverdi. The Monteverdi Gallery is situated in a 900-year-old village on a hilltop in Tuscany, called Castiglioncello del Trinoro. The programme of the gallery is curated by UK-curator Sarah McCrory. The show had just finished this week.


Vivien’s work at the Monteverdi exhibition.


I was invited to collaborate with a gallery to exhibit at the Milanese art fair – MiArt. It was such an exciting project to have on my plate, though it was right after our March Mostra. It was an opportunity for me to learn about the Milanese art scene – one that’s exceptionally vibrant in Italy – and the city itself. Also through the project I met a bunch of brilliant people – both curators and artists!


Vivien’s work at the MiArt exhibition


Vivien’s work at the MiArt exhibition

You referred to some ancient elements last time – the Etruscan vase handles, the pointing hands from Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Have ancient motifs continued to be of inspiration? 

This one, a half-dolphin half-pirate figure, crept into my work. It comes from an Etruscan vase, now in the Toledo Museum of Art. It’s based on a tale about how Dionysos transformed pirates into dolphins and the pirates were captured in the middle of that transformation. The pirates were leaping into the sea from their ship in fear of a lion and a raging bear, which the god, angry, had invoked on their ship.

As you approach the end of your residency, what do you think you will miss the most about Rome?

The people I’ve met at the BSR, the community, and environment of this place. I think it’s pretty indescribable and can only be understood having experienced it… Everything from our Assistant Director’s Prosecco-segues to tales of the old girl Fragolina…

I will also be participating in High Noon, a group exhibition of works by artists from the different foreign academies in Rome. The opening of the show is on 24 June. Stay tuned…


Paths Stamper (Rip Tyde), Vivien Zhang, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 56 x 51 cm

And I am currently showing works at Art Basel in a group presentation. Here is one of the paintings you can see at the art fair:


Octant Bounty, Vivien Zhang, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 210 x 170 cm

Vivien’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Friday 16 June until Saturday 24 June 2017, closed Sundays.