December Mostra 2015/ Meet the Artists

With the excitement of the December Mostra only one day away we invite you to meet the seven resident artists who will be exhibiting in the show.

Each of the artists were asked one question about their work and their time spent at the British School in Rome.

Ross Taylor
Abbey Scholar in Painting

Ross Taylor’s paintings are concerned with a language that is non-specific. A kind of poetics where only condensations appear on the surface, attempting to model thoughts and ideas that seem to be impossible in a physical realm. His research in Rome focuses on late medieval conceptions of virtual space and the techniques employed in portraying the sacred and the figureless.

Ross

Reflecting on the worn out surfaces of your paintings, do you think there is any parallel between these surfaces and the various ‘skins’ of Rome?

‘I’m trying not to take your question literally but at first glance, the surface of my paintings could be mistaken for parchment. They look leathery and beaten.

How the linen gets to this point is part of a process, in which marks, creases, stains, folds and slashes act as an informal language. Information that I can begin to decipher, and which informs the genesis of a work. The painting remains unstretched at this point and is kicked around the studio floor for a time until I notice something that needs ‘bringing out’. But rather than seeing the surface as an animal hide, I see this plane as a kind of liquid, or pool, where images float to the surface. And, when contemplating these condensations, ordering and adapting their unmediated components, I feel I am allowed to model ideas or thoughts that may usually appear impossible in physical space and time.

On our first week at the BSR we were taken by Professor Christopher Smith to visit the Forum. It was pointed out that when an archaeologist excavates a site, they must decide on what information will be revealed, and what histories should be removed to allow this. It’s like a haircut on a massive scale, or pruning a garden. Huge swathes of narrative from the Forum were scraped off the site’s surface, presenting you with a specific destination. This idea has become stuck in my head, as I don’t see myself as a creator of fictions but rather I see myself as a translator. I do not try to invent but rather discover something within the work.’

Catherine Story
Abbey Fellow in Painting

Catherine Story makes arrangements of paintings, sculptures and found objects. In Rome she’s been looking at different support structures, asking whether their natural shapes and basic materials are more relevant today than the ideal forms they once supported. Tree trunks hold up statues of Roman soldiers and brick buildings stand naked without their marble facades, but the holes between are like eyes watching from an ancient time.

Catherine

How do you think your three-month exploration of the material world and structure of Rome has influenced your work?

‘It’s hard to know, these experiences take time to settle in and you can only really see the changes later, but the difference between this visit and earlier ones is that previously I’ve concentrated on looking at the Renaissance paintings but this time, right from the tour of Ostia in the first week, I’ve been much more affected by the overlapping structures and materials of the city. No doubt this will influence my work in the furture but in the meantime it’s made me even more appreciative of how Fellini and Sergio Leone manage to embed so many different layers and moods into their films.’

Lincoln Austin
Australia Council Resident

Lincoln Austin’s ongoing artistic experiments perennially orbit around concepts of subjectivity, perception, experience and the blurred interaction of ideal and material realities. Lincoln has come to Rome to interrogate and document the ‘Cosmatesque’ mosaics produced for numerous churches in and around the city throughout the 12th and 13th centuries; masterful works utilizing a language of pure geometry to express a metaphysical cosmology, made from recycled stone gathered from the Fori Romani. Austin’s resulting artworks are a distillation of both the experience of looking at the ‘Cosmatesque’ firsthand and an attempt to integrate elements of this symbolic language of materials and geometry into his personal lexicon.

Lincoln

You work with so many repetitive designs that have such a central role in your practice. Having been given the opportunity to travel and see so many of these cosmatesque patterns ‘in the flesh’, has your work been influenced the way you expected it to be?

‘In preparing for this project I tried to keep my expectations of how an ‘in the flesh’ experience of these cosmatesque designs might influence work made in Rome to a minimum and instead focus more on the symbolism they employed and their origins in antiquity.

I had expected to undertake a methodical analysis of these mosaic designs by thoroughly documenting as many patterns and variations as possible photographically and exploring possible applications for variations within my own work. The great surprise for me was that when I finally found myself on a cosmatesque pavement pattern, they were the carefully constructed geometric abstraction I was expecting but they were also highly evocative and sensual surfaces, each one showing evidence of the effects of the movement of time. Each of the numerous examples of Cosmati work I have seen in and around Rome has been worn, damaged, restored or altered in different ways.

As expected I have produced an extensive archive of documentary photographs of the various cosmateque mosaic designs and their various applications. Alongside this I have produced a series of photographs and videos which reveal the sensual/tactile nature of these mosaics. These images are concerned with variations in texture and luster resulting from continuous wear, how the light of the architectural spaces in which they are located effects the reading of these mosaic and how the people who interact with these artworks affect them over time.

One step removed from this again is the work that I have produced for the BSR December Mostra; these works are the distillation of both this methodical analysis and the sensual experience of these mosaics. Working with found, ephemeral or everyday materials to create formal yet evocative and sensual works which engage with the immutability of pure geometry and the ever changing, fluid nature of time and life.’

James Ferris
Derek Hill Foundation Scholar

James Ferris is presenting a collection of images, objects and sound.  Over the past eight weeks he has been researching the talking statues of Rome and the question of what it might be to give works of art agency.

James

Your initial point of interest was in the talking sculptures in Rome, i.e. the Pasquino. Has your close proximity to these artworks changed the way you interact with them?

‘Yes.’

Mark Andrew Kelly
Giles Worsley Rome Fellow

Mark Andrew Kelly is a registered architect from Northern Ireland, currently working in practice in London. The exhibition explores concrete construction in Roman barrel vaults, cross-vaults and modern lightweight domes. His exhibition will present works made in various mediums including drawings, blueprints, graphite sketching, watercolour paintings, cast scaled models, 3D printing, oil painting and measured drawings on fine drafting film.

Mark

As an architect in a city with such a famous and varied architectural history, what has captured your interest most over the past three months?

‘The city has a rich and varied arrangement of buildings, public spaces and landscapes, layered on top of one another. The focus of my research on domes, vaulting and construction methods has taken me to see a wide and worthwhile series of case studies, which I will draw from in my future practice over the next 30 years.

There are three unique and significant experiences which stand out from my BSR fellowship:

a) (Temple of Mercury: Baiae, Bay of Naples) Drawing on the roof of the oldest concrete monumental dome in the world, near the oculus before sunset was profound. The temple of mercury (20.1m dome) was built in the late 1st century BC, around two centuries earlier than the Pantheon 123 AD (43.3m dome). The spaces created with pozzolana volcanic ash from Vesuvius nearby, made this concrete dome possible. This seminal building technique is a key moment in history, which has been used widely after Emperor Augustus throughout Imperial Rome to create many of Rome’s dome masterpieces like the Domus Area, the Baths of Caracalla and the Pantheon.

b) (Octagonal dome at Domus Aurea, Rome) The subterranean Domus Aurea was Nero’s golden house and pleasure palace, in the heart of Rome built in 64AD after a large fire on the Palentine and Aventine hills. After Nero died his successors wanted to destroy his work and distance themselves from his buildings. Hence the Baths of Trajan were built on top and the Domus Aurea and the palace was filled in with soil to block entry. Today archaeologists have made it possible to visit the underground rooms and octagonal dome wearing a hard hat and protective equipment, to explore this very large underground complex which was around 400m long, which is around four football pitches in length, with around 140 rooms on two levels and ceiling heights stretching up to eleven meters. The experience walking underground present day Rome and looking up at the Domus Aurea’s very unusual octagonal dome, was an eye-opening experience, to understand Nero’s ambition without today’s construction machinery.

c) (Fondi Arte – Fonderia di Bronzo, Rome) The final experience was bronze lost-wax casting which was used by the ancients to create their sculptural work. My research has been into casting concrete domes, through looking at the wood formwork which was used to create a negative mould to form the positive concrete form. This interest in formwork has led me to explore casting, which also uses plaster formwork to create sculptures and architectural maquette scaled models. The model of a lightweight roof dome inspired by the Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi was first hand-sculpted in wax and then a plaster negative cast was made, this was heated to 1100 degrees centigrade and molten bronze was poured into the plaster cavity, left to harden, cool, be polished and a patina can be added. The results were very pleasing and this will be shown in the BSR December mostra next to 21st century 3D prints to show the progression of technology across 2000 years in architectural design. I will let people decide if digital or analogue models are more effective. This unique experience working with skilled craftsmen in a bronze foundry is unique to Rome, where there is a strong craft tradition.’

Mandy Niewöhner
Rome Fellow in Contemporary Art

Mandy, Gerrit and Maria Niewöhner are three artists in one body.  In Rome they have been researching Michelangelo’s Last Judgement and the Vatican.  By queering the Vatican and transforming themselves into the Holy Trinity, Mandy, Gerrit & Maria have altered their individual experiences in a whole new body of work where questions are raised about sexuality, gender, religion and Catholic guilt.

Mandy

Your work includes the input of your three alter-egos; Mandy, Gerrit and Maria. How do you feel that your time at the BSR has allowed you to understand more about the personality of these three characters and how they relate to each other in an artistic sense? Is this something that will be explored in the mostra and in your research and continuing work?

The BSR has given us the time and space to develop ourselves not only on a personal level but especially artistically. This is the first time that Mandy, Gerrit and Maria are working and researching together. Before we came to the BSR we didn’t really know how us three could work together, especially since we are sharing one body, but during the residency everything fell into place and we discovered sides of ourselves we thought we never had. For the mostra we’ve collaborated on the work and the research with each of us giving a different input. We are very excited about the work we have made and how much we have grown as artists in such a short time. The BSR has become a starting point for us to explore our collaboration and it is something we would like to continue exploring in the future.’

Rachel Adams
Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture

Rachel Adams’ practice draws on a wide array of influences ranging from 1930s interior design to neolithic tools, classical sculpture and science fiction props.  Her objects combine a variety of DIY methods, such as tie-dye and macramé, with contemporary techniques like laser cutting and digital printing.  These works aim to highlight contradictions in both our perceived notions of history and the hierarchical structures of art and design.

Rachel

While at the BSR you have had almost unrestricted access to sculptures and monuments from numerous historical periods, but at the same time have also been able to see work from more ‘contemporary’ designers like Gio Ponti at the Palazzo delle Esposizione. How do you feel that this has expanded or reduced your view on sculpture in your own bracket?

‘For me, the mix of these two aspects has definitely expanded my view on sculpture, in particular the way these two aspects of sculpture can sit together. Of course being in Rome has been fantastic for seeing numerous sculptures and monuments from the ancient world. Working in the UK, it is difficult to see the quality, variety and abundance of objects from the period, where mostly we have access to copies or examples of neoclassicism. I have focused on ancient sculptures, but I have been very impressed by the more modern work on display, in particular that of artists/designers, for example Depero, whose appliqué is on display in both the Palazzo delle Esposizione and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. The way 20th-century artists in Italy seem to be able to cross disciplines, to create very irrational and luxurious design has been quite surprising to me, and quite unique in European Modernism. One thing that has particularly caught my eye in Rome’s numerous museums across both ancient and modern is in the methods of display. I have seen examples of classical motifs used to exhibit contemporary objects, and where fragmented marble from the 1st century re held in position with contemporary materials, like transparent acrylic or metal clamps. I feel like this clash of materials, the functional objects of the twentieth century with these ancient cultural objects holds great potential for my work, and will allow me to explore a greater amount of play and irrationality in the studio.’

Katherine Paines (Communications and Events Assistant)

All images credited to Antonio Palmieri, 2015

All details for the December Mostra: Open Studios can be found here.

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Using the lost-wax method of bronze casting in the 21st century

As part of his preparations for our December Mostra, Giles Worsley Rome Fellow, Mark Andrew Kelly has been exploring how the ancient lost-wax method of bronze casting could be used to create modern sculptures and scaled architectural models.

Our Communications and Events Assistant, Katherine Paines, accompanied him and Marco Palmieri (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator) to collect the finished sculpture and asked him what it was about this casting method that interested him so much.

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The final polished bronze sculpture made using the lost-wax technique. Photo by: Mark Andrew Kelly

The lost-wax method of bronze casting is so-called as it involves the creation of a primary sculpture in wax (or for larger sculptures, clay then coated in wax) which is encased in clay complete with small vents made from sticks of wax which form channels in and out of the refractory mold. This model is heated, causing the liquid wax to melt and escape through the vents as a gas, leaving an empty clay shell imprint into which the molten bronze can be poured. Once cooled the clay can be cracked open to reveal an exact bronze copy of the wax original, which can then be polished, chiseled and honed.

Hundreds of statues across the Greek and Roman world were made in this way, however, due to the skillful craftsmanship and the time required in the foundry, it is a method that has fallen somewhat out of fashion and is now not commonly done.

Mark is an artist and registered architect currently working towards an exhibition for the December Mostra at the British School at Rome. He is looking at concrete construction in Roman barrel vaults, cross-vaults and modern lightweight domes. The motivation to consider this type of bronze casting within his work comes from his interest in the formwork required to cast 3D metal models, which is very similar to casting in concrete.

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Mark Kelly (left) and Marco Palmieri (right) inspect the finished product. Photo by: Katherine Paines

Mark’s inspiration for trying out this method comes from his residency in Rome. He has travelled extensively around Italy during his time as an award-holder at the BSR, documenting the buildings and objects he has seen in an overflowing sketchbook and regularly publishing timelapse videos of his work on his personal architectural website. Mark passionately believes that when you come to a new place, particularly somewhere as steeped in a varied architectural history as Rome, you should try out the things that you are unable to do anywhere else. Where the craft and traditions are local, you are going to come out with the best results.

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Augusto, at Fondi Arte Bronzo, has been creating this type of work for over 28 years. He is seen here polishing the finished sculpture. Photo by: Katherine Paines

The cost of the raw materials and the antiquated methods used mean that it is not a commonly used method when creating sculpture. However, having whet his appetite for this here in Rome Mark is interested in potentially pursuing the lost-wax method further to produce architectural models as part of his regular practice in London. As he says, architectural models are often pricey things to produce even when they are made out of plastic and polymers, and as long as the quality produced justified the money spent it would be something he could look into – assuming of course he was able to find a workshop in England with the right equipment!

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Mark was inspired by the shape of Pier Luigi Nervi’s roof structure with three parabolic vaults. Drawings and photos by: Mark Andrew Kelly

The finished product, viewed alongside a reconstructed wax model of the same, will be unveiled as part of Mark Andrew Kelly’s collection at the December Mostra at the British School at Rome on Friday the 11 December 2015.

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Before and after: cast bronze metal on the left, hand-molded wax on the right (black). Photo by: Mark Andrew Kelly

Thanks must go out to Isabella Capolei, Marco Palmieri and the staff at the Fondi Arte Bronzo.

Katherine Paines (Communications and Events Assistant)

Mark Andrew Kelly’s blog, where you can find all of his timelapse videos of how he has been spending his time in Rome is available at: http://www.markkellyarchitect.com/blog/

The website of Fondi Arte Bronzo can be visited at:  http://www.fondiarte.it/index.html

Images by Mark Kelly and Katherine Paines