Being fortunate to be awarded the International Travel Fund from Bath Spa University, I was able to secure a mentoring experience with two fantastic artists in Italy this summer. Since being mentored by three diverse artists last year in Venice, I was keen to nurture my connections in Italy and have been in constant contact with sculptor Matteo Lo Greco, who personally invited me back to be his apprentice during the hectic Venice Art Biennale season. Along with learning new sculptural techniques with Matteo, I also wanted to gain knowledge in organising and preparing works for a show by working in Marisa Albanese’s studio in Naples. I have realised that whilst university is good at challenging young artists to think, approach and produce different works of art, its remit does not include gaining practical experience and a real insight into a successful full-time artist’s studio life. I chose to use my summer as an opportunity to travel, experience different cultures, meet new people, build key connections and most importantly gain studio and admin experience I recognised I was missing.
During my time in Naples, working as Marisa’s studio assistant, I learnt key organisational techniques for storing and presenting work for upcoming exhibitions. I helped Marisa prepare her artworks for two major upcoming shows.
The first project regarded a multimedia work constructed from photographs, watercolours and text, which was scheduled to participate in a group show in China under the exhibition’s theme: Journey. In response to the theme, Marisa compiled a collection of photographs depicting key landscapes, buildings and objects, which she felt represented the countries she had travelled to. In response to some of the photographs, she created a pixilated version of the images in water-colours. Some of these were then paired with words or quotes from key thinkers and writers that were taken from magazines and books.
Marisa and I debated the best composition for the piece, constantly changing and re-thinking the relationship between the individual works and how to best present them on the gallery wall. I also worked alongside her studio assistant Alessandro Armento to create a digital plan of the work with precise measurements that would fill the allocated wall-space. The digital plan was printed life-size to match the gallery’s wall in China. As Marisa is unable to physically be there during the show set up, the printed plan allows the curators to know exactly where each piece goes and the distance between them. When finalized, the paper was rolled up, wrapped in protective acetate sheets and placed into a cardboard tube ready for shipping. I respect Marisa’s perfectionist attitude and professional approach towards the presentation of her work. As I gain confidence in presenting my own work, and already having strong IT skills, I can easily borrow Marisa’s methods of presentation and planning when appropriate, when dealing with national and international galleries in the future.
The second project involved finding, categorizing and curating works with Marisa for another group show in Torino, Italy for October 2020. As part of the organization process, Marisa had to send images of her chosen artworks to the curator, however she quickly found that key files were missing from her digital oeuvre. Therefore, a mundane but important task of matching the artworks to their name and number needed to be completed. Whilst this was a tedious and laborious job that took up a whole day, it highlighted the importance of the necessity to keep a good photographic record of all the work on an external hard drive, ready for easy future access.
I appreciated learning the admin side compared to being an artist, as it’s often overlooked! I have learnt how to make a digital plan of a work’s dimension and make it fit an existing space and the importance of storing and keeping good records of all your work. These are key techniques that I look forward to implementing into the final year of my BA and my life as an artist after university.
Marisa also shared with me her production tips for two-dimensional and three-dimensional works. I learnt the importance of drawing and its ability to help you visualise and plan your work. If you choose to create a drawing, instead of signing your name at the bottom of the page where it can distract from the piece and could be removed, you can use a personalised dry stamp to mark your name onto the paper. If you are using a new sculptural material make sure to test it against ageing by leaving it out in the sun to see if it changes colour before selling it to a buyer. Marisa also showed me her casting techniques and how to manipulate damp plaster casts into new unique objects.
With these new tips in my mind, I was keen to help Matteo finish building his metal Bird sculpture from last summer, in his studio on the Lido in Venice. Unlike last year, when we built a metal skin around the plaster cast, this year we removed the internal plaster shape and began to reattach the metal pieces together using a high-pressure nail gun to make the whole metal sculpture. Once completed, thick metal rods were welded on the inside of the sculpture to act as the skeleton and securely attach the form to its metal base. Having worked with Matteo over the last two summers using rusted metal, I’ve concluded that it’s a very difficult material to cut and an even harder one to manipulate into shape. In the future, I will avoid using rusted metal as there are other equivalent materials which are more compliant to work with. However, should I need to work with it, I now know how!
At the end of my mentorship with Matteo, the artist kindly gave me his studio for a week to work in, as he left to go to Sicily. This was an incredible opportunity which allowed me to put all my new knowledge into action. Along with visiting the Art Biennale and other amazing exhibitions and galleries around Venice, I created drawings in my small travelling sketchbook- exploring the cliffs during my trip around the Amalfi coast (in Naples), the rocks on the Lido Beach and the different boat journeys during my daily travels on the Vaporetto (water bus). Key themes that linked my drawings together were Journeys and Connections – perhaps an unconscious refection of the key aspects that affected me during my travels this summer. Using the drawings as inspiration, I created a clay sculpture by using found instruments such as scissors and a paintbrush to help me create the delicate shape, and further develop my sculpting technique.
I followed my intuition in creating a rock shaped form before adding thin lines of relief on its surface. The lines never touch but their closeness to each other suggests a certain relationship and language. This work is still in development but it’s an exciting start to a new body of work that I can incorporate into my degree.
The mentoring experiences with Marisa and Matteo gave me an insight into a professional artist’s day to day life in the studio and has taught me key artistic and admin skills. By travelling, visiting exhibitions and talking to curators in galleries I was able to build connections with the European Culture Centre – Italy (ECC) who have invited me to participate in their 2020 Biennale Architecture Show Time Space Existence as one of the 40 chosen artists. Whilst I have chosen to concentrate on my final year at university, I am excited to work with the organisation after my degree and participate in their 2022 show!
All images are copyright and may not be used without the artist’s permission.