This blog is part of a short series documenting 5 days of activities at the British School at Rome, supported by my funders, Northern Bridge DTP. If you’ve missed out so far, try out details from Day 1, Day 2 or Day 3!
Day 4 was all about art in the process of becoming, the history of textiles, exploring Room and a night out in Trastevere!
We started out with artist-in-residence, Paul Becker. He is working on a series of art pieces, using oils and what looked like top quality linen canvas. I was fascinated with his huge glass palette and the sheer quality of the paints that he had picked. Look at how rich the colours are. In respect, I’ve not shown any of his works as they’re still in train.
I remarked on how triangular some of the brush heads are. Apparently, that’s as a result of Paul’s process – he firmly rubs or scrubs the brush against the canvas as part of his mark making, wearing down brushes all the time. My tentative dabs and swooshes onto canvas (albeit with acrylics) are hardly enough to move the brush. Lesson learned!
Paul was great craic. He told us that he had been a Foundation Art head of department at Newcastle… For context, I was asking Paul about building up technique: I have this feeling that in my own art work (as basic as it is) that I’m lacking a series of technical skills… it’s the idea that, if only you could learn a load of approaches, becoming an artist would be much easier. Paul disabused me of that notion. What’s important is to make marks, fail and get things wrong, allow the image or interaction to become without shoe-horning it into this school or that approach.
This reminds me of Donna Haraway, who talks a lot about ‘it matters what ideas are used to think other ideas’… in other words, if you corner yourself into only using, say, one approach to a landscape or painting a face, the mechanism you have learned restricts all of the other possible approaches that might be in your capability, that would make you an artist.
Wise words from Paul Becker! Next it was on to the studio of Northern Ireland’s own Sharon Kelly.
Each artist’s space is set up by them to meet their own needs and so the layout of the space, the arrangement of works in progress and the way in which Sharon existed in the space was quite different from Paul. Sharon was playing with lining paper as a structural medium, charcoal and watercolours for mark making as well as other physical detritus that, in their accumulation, seemed to speak to her artistic sensibility (particularly fruit gloves and old brown bag handles).
Sharon is very at home in this space.
She was so charming to us, with all of our questions and minds open to new ways of perceiving and representing the world.
With some time to play with, Professor Karen Fleming (University of Ulster) brought forward a seminar on Dress, addressing everything from textile and dye making (Tyrian Purple is particularly interesting) to Roman togas and funerary wear. It was thought provoking and informative.
The afternoon became free and everyone scattered across Rome to see whatever was top of their list. I started off with a nap, a great precursor to exploration!
We are situated right next to the Gallery of Modern Art and the sun was just burnishing the columns of marble.
I wanted to see Castel Sant’Angelo, something I had swerved every other time and the walk of about 40 minutes was a good way to clear my head. My route was back through Piazza del Popolo and a view of the obelisk there in daylight.
It didn’t take long to reach Castel Sant’Angelo (on the right). I hadn’t realised quite how close it was to the Vatican. The building was originally Hadrian’s Mausoleum and, over the years, was acquired by various Romans in power, including the Church, most notably Pope Paul III. All these ‘owners’ brought new building, interior frescos or gun plots. Without the guidance of someone like Robert Coates-Stephens who brought us around the Forum, I felt a bit lost with only interpretative signs describing a niche or a genitalled cherub.
The view from the roof of St Peters was, however, stunning.
I managed to snatch this shot through a broken window. A useful metaphor, I think.
This seagull was really ready for a close-up!
The aforementioned cherub.
On my way to dinner, it seemed foolish not to stop off at St Peters. The crowds there during the day had died down and there were just a few dozen still milling around in the dusk light.
Before long, I moved on to Trastevere, where we were to join up for dinner, our first night away from the British School.
I think Steph, Becky and Alice were looking happy as their pizzas had been snarfled!
Helen in full flow.
A thoughtful Pietro digging into his fresh pasta. It looked great!
The group joyful as their meals arrived (quickly too!)
Alisdair looks thrilled that any vegan choice was available. At one point, it looked like the restaurant could only serve him potatoes! Creative thinking got him to a pizza with marinara sauce and roast vegetables. It looked nice (if a little dry).
Everyone in various states of munching.
Finally, Felix provided us with one of his signature introductions to church architecture (this church we are looking at was founded by Calixtus in the third century).
Getting to know this group of PhD students (and the seminar leaders) has been a fascinating process. Each of us are looking at subjects and research that is fairly niche and specific. But this group has kept their minds open and all kinds of crossings over are happening, new ways of thinking, or rethinking some key idea from a new perspective. That’s not bad as a life lesson… keeping things open, enriching things using new lights. That’s my thought for the day!
Just one day to go!! Day 5 coming up tomorrow.