December Mostra 2017 / Meet the artists…John Robertson

This is the penultimate 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 John Robertson, our 2017-18 Abbey Scholar.

DSC_0653 (1).jpg

Photo: Antonio Palmieri

Your works intricately blend the language of painting and collage. Could you talk to us more about this?

Well I call them paintings, even though they’re all technically paper collages. I never paint directly onto the canvas, partly because it annoys me that if I put a bit of green say in the bottom right corner, I can’t move it to the top left. So I use the paper as a kind of mediator between the paint and the canvas. Then it becomes about the process of arranging and rearranging, a kind of visual syntax that’s trying to articulate the rectangle. Articulate rectangles, that’s what i’m trying to make, and I’d call that making paintings.

Farrier, 29.7 x 21 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas

Farrier, 2017, 29.7 x 21 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas (Photo: John Robertson)

You will be exhibiting in three Mostras at the BSR, do you think you will be able to see a change in your practice over the months from being resident in Rome?

I hope so. I think being in Rome, going around with an open mind, the city is beginning to seep into my work. One of the works I’m showing in the December Mostra is a large mostly black piece made with carbon paper. I arranged the paper the evening after I had visited San Luigi dei Francesi, the church with the Caravaggio triptych. When I was in there I realised that the only flat areas of colour in the church were the dark areas on these Caravaggio paintings — everything else was Baroque. But it was not as if I consciously came back and then did something about this, the carbon paper was in the studio and it was what I happened to pick up. It was only the following day that I made the relationship.

The interior of Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso is almost entirely decorated with faux marble. It is a brown colour and you really don’t notice it at first. Some of it’s quite bad and I’m interested in that idea of bad faux because it’s really nebulous. With good faux you get this surprise when you get close and realise it’s paint but that’s about it. But bad faux is weirder, like a painting of good faux – a painting of.. a painting of… a surface. It’s more aware of itself as an image and that’s a quality i’m after in my work.

bad faux

Bad faux (Photo: John Robertson)

I often try to get that self-awareness from ripping up the paper, i’ll paint some faux woodgrain and rip it up and so you’ll get this bit of paper that’s pretending to be wood and admitting that it’s paper at the same time. It’s the torn edge that gives the game away.


Detail (Photo: John Robertson)


Could you tell us what ideas you have been exploring since you have been in Rome?

In my application for this residency, I stated that I was going to visit Palazzo Massimo as I knew that they had a lot of frescoes there. I was interested in the point where a trompe-l’oeil fresco gets eroded and the wall and plaster is exposed. This line, this sort of split, I think of as ontological in terms of what a painting is, a meeting of the image and the object and the discussion between these two things.

In Rome I have found a lot more of these frescoes, or displaced mosaics displayed on the wall. They all have this swathe of white interrupting them- the bare plaster. This has definitely been a thing that I’ve been looking at – the relationship between the painting and the wall. Previously I’ve used ripped up wallpaper to look at it but since i’ve been here I’ve been focusing more on using the negative space of the white gessoed canvas. I’m trying to throw the wall into the work. This can be seen in the black piece, which is named St. Bartholomew – after the statue at St John Lateran, which we saw on our walk around the seven pilgrimage basilicas of Rome.


Statue of Saint Bartholomew, St John Lateran (Photo: John Robertson)

In this statue he is holding his own image, his own skin. It’s a bit like the bad faux again, an image of an image. In my work that I have made for the Mostra, there’s this white expanse that can trick your eyes, it looks like there’s a hole in the middle of it. It’s like the white canvas is a faux painting of the wall. I like how this makes the white figurative, like it’s got a depth to it but only two and a half cm, the depth of the stretcher.

St. Bartholomew, 200 x 120 cm, Acrylic on paper on canvas

St. Bartholomew, 2017, 200 x 120 cm, Acrylic on paper on canvas (Photo: John Robertson)

I am still exploring these white spaces and will be looking at these and trying to figure this out over the next few months.

John’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…Josephine Baker-Heaslip

This is the fifth 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 Josephine Baker-Heaslip, our 2017-18 Sainsbury Scholar in Painting & Sculpture.


Photo: Alice Marsh

In the past few weeks you have been working on an ambitious number of works on paper. Is this a new development in your practice, or do you see this more as a natural progression from your more sculptural work? Is there a relationship between the two?

I have always made drawings, but their intensity has changed. I used to draw very quickly, and being able to slow the drawings down here in Rome has reminded me of drawings I made when I was a teenager, not as an art student. I am enjoying returning to this meticulous way of working. But I think it is a natural development as well, insofar as when you start in a new place and you do not have abundant facilities and tools around you, which you become used to as a sculptor. For example, when I graduated from the RA Schools in June I rented a temporary studio with no facilities at all, I had to change my methods and I started to draw on paper again, using chalk to create colour fields and patterns resembling landscapes. I find starting from scratch in this way helps me to see what is around me again.

I see drawing as the mediation between different moments or stages of a sculptural or more spatial practice, and for me it is often the place where ideas for new sculptures first arrive. I guess partly because of this the sculptures often feel quite flat, reduced and diagrammatic. I have often been told that they look like physical drawings in space. As I come from more of a printmaking background, working within the parameters of a surface comes relatively naturally. This limitation is also something that interests me about architectural space the building materials that I use.

I am currently taking things that I have learned from sculpture and reapplying them back into my drawings, to try to in turn figure out what can be made physical again. So, yes, it is a progression in my practice, by me learning how to look both into the past and future of my work. Making these intense landscape drawings now is going to inform the sculptures that I make here in the next months.


Josephine Baker-Heaslip, night is also a sun, 2016


Josephine Baker-Heaslip, new grass, 2017

What things in Rome have particularly struck you and influenced you during this period?

I’m not really able to talk about it until I can see the influences starting to operate in my work. For example, I can see it here in these drawings of organs.


Josephine Baker-Heaslip, last breath, 2017

It has been critical that in every church I have been into in Rome there has been this incredible strange musical edifice of the organ. Being confronted by an overtly Catholic culture here, as an atheist, has drawn out my interest in my own relationship to these places. The organ is so huge and so silent when it is not being played, even though it is practically the loudest instrument in the world. There is something about a need to believe and a will to sense, and how they are visible or invisible to one another, that is particularly powerful, which I want to try to visualize.

Also, in Rome the kerbs of the pavements have these interlocking sections. When my auntie visited me in Rome she said that my gran was always struck by these kerb patterns. Even though it is a very pragmatic form, it suddenly felt to me very personal and the shape became imbued with another kind of history. These interlocking semicircles now recur as a motif in a lot of my drawings.

I try to approach things very naively at times. Like seeing some huge holes through the façade of a Roman structure, and not knowing what they were for, guessing that they were to do with water, so my drawings of this form often have charcoal smudged into water flowing out of them. I like to play with the processes of the imagination and how they can predict reality, or structures of knowledge, in an attempt to figure out how I am affected by the landscapes around me.

Being here for twelve months I am able to take things quite slow and let the city take me by surprise. You never know what you are going to encounter and how it might change your practice. Rome is saturated with these moments, and at every turn there are moments that your gut has to pick out.

You are in Rome for 12 months, are there any specific places that you would like to visit?

I have been able to go to Venice for the Biennale and Turin for Artissima while I have been here, so far. However, in both places it has not been the art fairs or festivals necessarily, but other things that have struck me on my visits.

While in Italy, I am particularly interested in visiting the earthquake sites and in doing so start to understand a country that is much more affected by natural disasters (earthquakes and volcanoes) than the UK. I have used images of natural disasters in my work as a frightfully real metaphor for a lot of contemporary conditions. Thinking about the environment in the 21st Century and the distinction between natural and man-made catastrophe has been a constant theme in my practice for the past two years.

I would like to go and see Giampilieri Superiore (Messina) in Sicily, a small town that was completely decimated in 2009. And also visit the volcanic island of Stromboli. I don’t know exactly what will come out of these visits, but I know the motivation has much to do with observing a human relationship to nature in crisis, and how these extreme situations and their imagining relate to the complexity of the current migrant crisis.

How has being resident at the BSR affected your practice?

I am making a wall sculpture of a large backgammon board, based on a travel one that I have here in the studio that I brought with me, with the hope that I’d find someone to play with! This form has come into my work as both an architectural and natural one, and for me represents a certain kind of structure of loneliness. This is not immediately obvious from the work, of course, but for me it was the motivation to use this motif, as well as it being a popular ancient game in Mediterranean countries. The board, dice and pieces will also play with the ideas of cause, effect and chance — which are recurring themes in my work. So being at the BSR has affected me, but I think it is more about being self-aware and figuring out what you are affected by and using it in the work.

Will you show both sculpture and drawings in the mostra?

In the mostra I would like to use the space to experiment with the relationships between my sculptures and drawings. I didn’t end up doing this for the show at the RA Schools and I would really like to push this spatial relationship between really concentrated works on paper and scattered sculpture. I am looking forward to creating a series of connections in the room and from there think about where I would like to go next.

Josephine’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)

Benvenuti to our 2017-18 award-holders

2017-18 October award-holders

2017-18 October award-holders. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Our October award-holders for 2017-18 arrived just last week, and it was great for staff and residents to hear about their projects for their residencies during our welcome week introductory talks. A full list of this year’s award-holders is on our website.

In our October cohort we are pleased to have been able to offer three new residencies.  Loek Luiten is our Judith Maitland Memorial Awardee whose research looks at the Farnese dynasty and power in Saint Peter’s patrimony; on the Fine Arts side we have James Epps who is our Augusta Scholar; and last but not least Pele Cox, our John Murray / Keats-Shelley Memorial Association Creative Writing Resident.

Pele is the BSR’s first resident in creative writing and as part of her introductory talk we were treated to a reading of a poem she had written in response to being awarded her residency at the BSR. Earlier this week she introduced many residents to the Keats Shelley Memorial House — not far from the BSR in Piazza di Spagna — where Julian Sands was giving a poetry reading.

A trip to the Roman Forum has been a staple of welcome week activities in the past few years, and this year the mantle passed from former BSR Director Christopher Smith to BSR Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens. Taking in some sites on the way, the group profited from Assistant Director Tom True’s worldly wisdom in the Campo Marzio.

For those of you in Rome, keep your diaries free on 29 and 30 November when our current senior award-holders Clare Robertson and Philippa Jackson will be giving their lectures on ‘Federico Zuccaro and his intellectual circle’ and ‘Raphael and Sienese circles’ respectively.

And on Friday 15 December we have the opening of December Mostra, an exhibition of works by current Fine Arts award-holders.

There’s a lot to look forward to, and the full list of events we will be holding here in Rome is on our website:

Photos by Antonio Palmieri (2017-18 award-holders) and Alice Marsh (Forum and Campo Marzio)


British School at Rome 2009-2017

 A final message from Christopher Smith as outgoing BSR Director


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

In March 2016, the British Government set out the reason it funds the British Academy sponsored institutes: ‘Developing research links and collaborations with the best researchers overseas.’

As I look back over eight years as Director of the British School at Rome, and the BSR looks forward to a new Director and a new academic year, it seems appropriate to reflect on how we are doing against this clear and specific mission.

My predecessor, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, continued to lead the Herculaneum Conservation Project brilliantly through the first years of my Directorship, and with the support of the Packard Humanities Institute and the local authorities, channelled millions of dollars into Herculaneum, and fostered dozens of international partnerships, most visibly in the major British Museum exhibition Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and in commendations by UNESCO. Without the BSR this hugely important project would not have happened.

The BSR is involved in several major AHRC projects and a partner in the ERC Horizon 2020 project Unsettling Remembering and Social Cohesion in Transnational Europe.  Simon Keay’s outstanding work at Portus, begun at the BSR and conducted in full collaboration between the BSR, the Rome authorities and the University of Southampton, led to major AHRC grants and then an ERC grant as well as a very popular MOOC. The then AHRC CEO Rick Rylance singled out the BSR’s role as exemplary in terms of international collaboration.

This coming academic year we are hosting eight externally funded research fellows and seventeen humanities scholars (including our first creative writing fellow), and seventeen fine artists, supported by the BSR and our various funding partners.  Topics of research range from Roman clothing to medieval poetry, fascist fountains and the suicide attack on the Italian military police headquarters in Nasiriyah, Iraq in 2003, and range right across the Mediterranean and beyond, from prehistory to the contemporary. This breadth is both extraordinary and par for the course at the BSR!

The breadth and depth of BSR events in the coming three months continues to push British scholarship out to a wide intellectual community through workshops on ground penetrating radar, digital humanities, Roman Catholicism as a world religion, and one of the first events held outside the UK as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities, which will bring together UK and Italian experts on heritage management, illicit trade and endangered archaeological sites. This is part of the BSR’s contribution to accelerating bilateral relations between the UK and Italy, led by our Embassy in Rome.

All of our events (90 in 2016-17) command an international audience.  Our library has an international readership yet remains curated with the needs of UK scholars uppermost.  We have led the unification of Rome’s research library catalogues in URBiS, which with 2.6million records from 22 individual institutions is now a global resource. The BSR is itself a proudly international community where UK scholars and artists meet others from across the Commonwealth, the other foreign academies in Rome, and Italy’s best universities and research units.

In 2017 we commissioned an independent and detailed research review along the lines of REF. The results, just received, are highly positive and the openness of the BSR and its role in facilitating intellectual friendships and academic collaborations is repeatedly valued.

What does this look like in practical terms, in real life?  Next week, the new award-holders will arrive into a vibrant, successful and intellectually challenging institution.  They will form a multidisciplinary community drawn from many traditions and countries.

They will meet award-holders from the twenty-seven other research and arts institutions in Rome, participate in events with scholars and experts from St Andrews, the Courtauld Institute, La Sapienza, Tor Vergata, Siena, Austin Texas, Melbourne, and the Italian superintendencies and Guardia di Finanza, the British Embassy and the Italian Ministry of Culture. The activities will be led by our new Director, Professor Stephen Milner, himself a scholar of international reputation and experience.

If past performance can indicate future returns, then these award-holders will return home with both their own scholarship and creativity strengthened and a deep appreciation of what can be achieved when barriers are broken down and collaborations forged. Every one of last year’s humanities award-holders has secured a prestigious research position, and we have many new and exciting projects just beginning. It seemed fitting that the last event held during my directorship, on the Roman Campagna, united projects funded by the Getty, Leverhulme Trust and Australian Research Council, and brought the riches of our special collections, the knowledge of experts across Rome, and new technological advances in digitization and GIS, as well as contemporary artistic practice, to bear on the changing landscape, ecology and climate of Rome’s hinterland from 1000 BC to the present.

For over a hundred years, the BSR has had the mission of being the bridge between the UK, the Commonwealth and Italy. The BSR, together with the other institutions supported by the British government through the British Academy, form an innovative, successful and vital network, facilitating the work of UK HEIs in their regions, and bringing together the very best researchers and practitioners.

The values of internationalism, collaboration and community have never been more necessary.  I am immensely proud of what my colleagues at the BSR have achieved, staff members, award-holders, research fellows and visitors alike, and grateful to you for your support. I am confident that we fully meet the Government’s core objective for our institutions. And I am convinced that the BSR’s role in representing the best of an international United Kingdom in an international world is and will remain an invaluable part of the research and creative landscape which David Cannadine, the President of the British Academy, rightly described as ‘not recreational but fundamental, not optional but essential.

Christopher Smith

Arrivederci to Christopher Smith

DSC_5725This weekend Christopher Smith gave his final lecture as Director of the BSR. Colleagues and friends from the worlds of academia, diplomacy and the arts filled the Sainsbury Lecture Theatre as Christopher gave a whirlwind presentation of the projects and initiatives that have come to fruition over the past eight years. The spontaneous applause at the start of the lecture, and the standing ovation afterwards are testament to the esteem in which Christopher is held by his peers in Italy.

Standing ovation

A standing ovation for Christopher

The sentiment was no less generous back in June when Christopher gave his valedictory lecture in London, offering a personal reflection upon the BSR’s achievements and its future role in inspiring creative research. Introducing the lecture, Chairman of Council Tim Llewelyn rightly said that Christopher’s stewardship of the BSR has been ‘full of imagination and encouragement of research and scholarship’.

You can watch a recording of the valedictory lecture here.

Following Christopher’s lecture in Rome, we presented him with an overflowing box of cards and presents from fans across the world! Thank you to everyone who sent something through, it was very much appreciated!


Kind words were offered by our Assistant Director Tom True, Research Professor in Archaeology Simon Keay, and Christopher’s successor as president of the Unione Internazionale (Rome’s network of foreign academies) Wouter Bracke.

And to top the evening off, all guests enjoyed a slice of the Lapis Niger – in cake form! Perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of ancient Rome, but as every BSR resident who has had the privilege of his fabled forum tour will know, this inscribed stone is Christopher’s favourite Roman monument, and we couldn’t think of a better way to acknowledge this than reproducing it in edible form. Thank you to our chef Luca for making the cake and honing his inscription skills!

Lapis Niger

The Lapis Niger…. in cake form!

On Monday 25 September we held a special staff lunch with Christopher and Susan’s favourite BSR meal – Dharma’s legendary curry!

Special staff lunch

A special staff lunch in the cortile

This was our opportunity to present Christopher and Susan with their gifts. Various members of staff carefully selected images from our Archive collection to be reproduced in a portfolio. These images included photographs of the Roman Forum and Segni, – archaeological sites very close to Christopher’s heart – some images of the BSR’s third Director Thomas Ashby, and to finish a black and white print of Christopher with BSR staff.

Christopher and Susan open their presents

Assistant Director Tom True had expressed concern that after eight years of hearing the bell in the cortile rung daily at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., Christopher and Susan may have trouble remembering when to take their meals…it therefore seemed appropriate that we present them with their very own bell to ensure continued prandial punctuality!

Susan inaugurates their new bell

Christopher will be moving on to pursue a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, and we have no doubt that his research will continue to bring him back to the BSR in the future. But before embarking on this next stage, Christopher and Susan will be heading to France for a well-deserved rest.

Au revoir et bon courage!

Au revoir et bonne chance!


Text by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager) and photos by Chris Warde-Jones.

Wrapping up 2016-17: our year in events

As the final event of our 2016—17 events programme, AHMM’s Architecture and the Art of the Extra Ordinary exhibition, is about to close, it is with great pride that we look back on a fantastic year. Our calendar this year has been one of the richest yet, with some 90 lectures, conferences, exhibitions and seminars. To showcase the wide range of events we have hosted and the diversity of the disciplines cultivated, here is a taste of the fantastic cultural programme we are proud to have hosted over the past ten months.

From 19—21 September, the BSR hosted the conference The Lateran Basilica, which saw specialists in archaeology, architecture, art history, liturgy and topography come together to present and discuss new research on the Basilica. The conference included not only a rich programme of lectures, but also a site visit to the excavations of the ancient foundations of the Basilica.

In October, the exhibition Emplacement by Miroslaw Balka, which was the first of our 2016—17 Architecture programme Meeting Architecture: Fragments curated by Marina Engel, drew to a close with the artist in conversation with Joseph Rykwert. Focusing on Otwock, near Warsaw, Balka’s home town and Rykwert’s childhood holiday home, the artist and architectural historian discussed their respective work in the context of architecture and memory and architecture and ideology.

You can watch the video of the conversation here.


Joseph Rykwert (L) in conversation with Miroslaw Balka (R), chaired by Pippo Ciorra (C). Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

The first event of our Fine Arts programme, curated by Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator Marco Palmieri, was a talk by British artist Emma Hart, who last year won the Max Mara Art Prize for Women. Emma discussed her practice and elaborated on recent works, motivations, and projects.


Artist’s talk by Emma Hart. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

Also taking place in November was our annual Molly Cotton Lecture, which this year was given by Maria Paola Guidobaldi. Her lecture Arredi di Lussi da Ercolano: I più recenti rinvenimenti dalla città e dalla Villa dei Papiri gave an insight into new findings at Herculaneum. Click here to listen to the audio podcast of the lecture.

You can read about Molly Cotton and her legacy in this piece written by Archaeology Officer and Molly Cotton Fellow, Stephen Kay.

The first three months of our 2016—17 programme culminated in the December Mostra, which gave us the first glimpse of the new works by our Fine Arts award-holders. As always, the Mostra was a great success and we were blown away by the quality and diversity of the works on show.

From 26—27 January, the BSR hosted the conference for Rome’s Mediterranean Ports Project for the second year in a row, a five-year research project funded by the European Research Council and led by the University of Southampton. This conference was another international event which brought together new research from a broad range of scholars.

You can read more about the project here.


While the BSR recently celebrated its 100th birthday, a talk by John Osborne marked the 150th birthday of a significant advancement in photography. In this lecture, Charles Smeaton, John Henry Parker and the earliest photography in the Roman catacombs, John Osborne discussed the innovation of using magnesium wire to take photographs, which allowed images to be captured without natural light. The impact of this was that Roman catacombs could be documented with photographs for the first time. This is a topic close to the BSR, as the collection of photographs by Thomas Ashby (Director 1906–25) is a treasure of the BSR Archive. We are also very much looking forward to welcoming John as one of 2017–18 Balsdon Fellows!

For Assistant Director Tom True’s reflection on the talk, follow this link. You can watch the lecture on our YouTube channel by clicking here.


We thank Robert Coates-Stephens for captaining another fantastic City of Rome course, in which eleven postgraduate students spent eight weeks in Rome on an intensive residential course, with a rigorous itinerary of site visits and research. The course is accompanied by the City of Rome lecture series, and in this we were treated to seven fantastic lectures on the ancient city.

In June, no less than four conferences were held at the BSR. The first, Oltre Roma medio repubblicana: il Lazio tra i galli e la battaglia di Zamaformed the second part of the conference series which seeks to address anew the themes of growth and transformation of the city of Rome and its territory.

Scholars convened at the BSR for the the Rome Art History Network (RAHN) conference Le collezioni degli artisti in Italia, which considered the impact of social change between the 1500s and 1700s on art and artists in that period.

Hot on the heels of this, the first day of the two-day conference Sensing Divinity: Incense, Religion and the Ancient Sensorium came to the BSR. Many were drawn out into the cortile by the smell of incense wafting through the corridors.


Sensing Divinity conference. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.


Sensing Divinity conference. Photo by Antonio Palmieri.

The fourth and final conference in June was rounded off with Hortus inclusus: Expanding Boundaries of Time and Space, which marked twenty years since the landmark Horti Romani conference which opened new directions for the study of cultural landscapes.

The final event of the 2016–17 programme was a lecture and accompanying exhibition by Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects. Architecture and the Art of the Extra Ordinary explores the idea of the Universal Building, demonstrated in six projects in a range of physical, political and cultural contexts. For the video of Simon Allford’s lecture, please click here.

We are already looking forward to a fresh set of events beginning in September! New programme coming soon…

Ellie Johnson (Communications and Events)


March Mostra 2017 / Meet the Artists… Sinta Tantra

Our annual March Mostra is opening tomorrow and we are really looking forward to seeing what our six resident artists and architects have produced over the course of the past three months. As the finishing touches are made to the gallery, we bring you a teaser of what to expect in the fifth interview of the Meet the Artists blog series, this time with Sinta Tantra, our inaugural Bridget Riley Fellow.

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Photo by Antonio Palmieri

Sinta Tantra describes her work as ‘painting on an architectural scale’, creating works that celebrate the spectacle, questioning the decorative, functional and social role of art. The compositional arrangements are rooted in formalism, when private becomes public and when the viewer becomes active. Her work is an ‘overlay’ of colour which inserts its identity within pre-existing spaces – heightening a sense of fantasy within a functional context. 

So far, has being in Rome made a big impact on your work?

Realistically speaking, it’s quite a difficult city to settle into – visiting as a tourist is quite a different experience to living here. Naturally, I am of course interested in the many artists and writers who were inspired by Rome, but equally, I’m also interested in the people who weren’t – James Joyce is an example. He said something like, ‘Rome was like visiting the corpse of your dead grandmother’. Quite a shocking thing to say, but for me it’s about looking at ideas around the ‘Grand Tour’ and subverting that.

In his letters to his brother, Joyce writes about walking around the city and how he has a new idea for a book which would later on become Ulysses. From this, I became interested in how you walk around Rome, the relationship the body has to the city and how our own individual journeys become invisible line drawings traced/overlaid onto the city itself.

I’ve also been inspired by the colours of Rome, not only in nature – there’s amazing light here –  but also in the fashion, style and music – everything is very vivid compared to say an ‘English taste’. People here seem to walk with confidence, a sense of ‘peacocking’ and I love it! The colours in my recent paintings have been inspired by this – more vivid, more reds and yellows.

Is this residency different in that, given that you are here for a longer period than usual, you wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to do two mostre?

Yes absolutely, I see it as both a residency and an academic programme with things being divided term by term. It’s very structured, so it’s quite nice having two mostre and being able to reassess and reflect at the end of each three-month period.

Have you found it difficult to manage all the travelling you’ve been doing?

Yes, I’ve been doing some travelling outside of Italy as I’m managing a few projects back in the UK and in Asia.  I’ve been trying to feed all these influences and inspirations back into my studio in Rome – the idea that ‘all roads lead to Rome’.

In your introductory talk, you showed us a lot of large-scale, outdoor installations – has the residency in Rome been a challenge, given that for this mostra you are in a way confined to the gallery space?

In the first term, I wanted to focus on settling in, contextualising my location, research and making paintings. The second term I’ll be doing public art projects and working outside the BSR. One of the things I’m interested in doing next term – maybe going back to this idea of journeys and walking around the city – is to create three mini public art interventions based on James Joyce’s walking route around the city.

If you could do an installation anywhere in the city, where would you choose? 

I’d love to do any of the piazzas. The piazzas here are like platforms or stages where people congregate. They have a very different feel to squares in the UK. Maybe that’s another thing I was inspired by – this Italian attitude of being ‘seen to be seen’. It’s quite dazzling for a foreigner because Romans come across with such confidence – a kind of bravado which I like and am trying to incorporate into my work.

What is usually your approach to making a final piece, and has that changed at all?

Regarding the painting process, it’s still the same. I’d say the colours have changed though because of the natural light in the studios. I can mix colours with more intensity, as opposed to London where I work under electrical light.

Do you think that being in an environment with both scholars and artists has had a different impact on your work than it would have had you been working solely alongside other artists?

The interdisciplinary side is very evident – scholars see and speak very differently to artists. But because of the community and the activities that go on here, conversations between us happen quite naturally.

Also, usually on a typical art residency, artists work more independently. The environment here at the BSR feeds into your work – you might be having a conversation with someone at dinner who will immediately take you to the library after coffee to give you a book to read.

Can you tell me a bit about your final piece for the Mostra?

It’s part painting, part sculpture, part domestic object. It consists of four painted screens configured in a way so that it’s free-standing rather than on the wall. Some of the motifs on it are inspired by the Piranesi prints that I came across at the BSR.

When it comes to choosing what to show in the Mostra, what is the process? Do you start a work thinking, ‘I’m going to show this in the Mostra‘, or do you come to a selection process and think, for example, ‘these three pieces work well together’?

A bit of everything: I plan for things quite in advance, but then again I take such pleasure in positioning my paintings in the gallery and how it interacts with the architecture. This is quite different from my public artworks that are always placed precisely.

And do you think that you can do that because it’s a six-month process – do you think that, say if you were here for just three months, you would try to encompass that whole process into that shorter time frame?

It’s very important as an artist to not just produce work, but to produce work, reflect on it, and then make new work in response to that. Having the six months enables you to learn a lot more.

Sinta’s work will be exhibited alongside the five resident artists in the March Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 March until Saturday 25 March 2017, closed Sundays.

Interview conducted by Ellie Johnson.