Welcome to the first post in our new series: Alumni Profiles. Throughout the year we will be putting the spotlight on alumni working in a wide range of fields, to find out what they’re up to, learn about their current projects, and hear how their time in Rome has impacted on their career.
For the first instalment of the series, we caught up with Oona Grimes, an artist based in London. Oona was The Bridget Riley Fellow 2017–18 and also sits on our Faculty of the Fine Arts.
How have you been spending your time during lockdown?
In the early days of lockdown, a fragmented time of staying home – I drew incessantly, chomping through HB pencils, filling school exercise books with story boards which morphed into my first low tech animations.
Lockdown forced us all to take a step back and re-assess our lives, our daily practices, our routines. The enforced restrictions allowed me to focus inward, and the importance of ‘screen-free making’ was a preservation of sanity.
I worked on a series of story boards; murd feature Gelsomina, the central character from Fellini’s La Strada, and interpret her sense of empowerment through performance, her escape from a life of bullying and abuse. They are rapid-fire action notations, a series of flashing snippets from hand-drawn sketches, that re-imagine and mis-remember the films of my childhood.
Many generous invitations to show and share work online spun in. A lockdown project by Art Chaplaincy Spiritual Exercises 1 led to an indoor film, shot on i.phone and edited on a single house-bound day.
‘The mighty dead…woo woo’ conveys a darkly fluttering sensation or anxiety. A moth or shade ascends towards the light, blindly negotiating objects and defying gravity without release.
Film still from <em>the mighty dead…woo woo
Who/what has been the greatest inspiration on your work?
Flattist fuzzy felt drawing from the Etruscans to Ant and Bee; from Simone Martini and Lorenzetti to Otto Messner and Max Fleischer; Buster Keaton to Pasolini…
What are your favourite memories of your time in Rome?
I loved every second of my fellowship.
The much-appreciated time to focus solely on work; the eye-opening light and daily walks through such an extraordinary city; the unique experience of casual conversations with other fellows leading down rich rabbit holes of research.
The generous support of all the staff, unforgettable discoveries in the 24-hour library. Exploring their recent acquisitions of books of early etchings and engravings, their vast post card and photography collections…
My discovery of Toto and introduction to commedia dell’arte…
It was a time of much nurture and nourishment, a filling up of all the senses paralleled with a sharpening of output.
left: Totò; right: Film still from Uccellacci e uccellini, starring Totò and Ninetto Davoli
How did your time at the BSR impact on your subsequent career?
The Fellowship gave me confidence and a lifetime’s fodder which I am still digesting. In Rome I began to re-interpret film performatively; I was drawn into the moving image, shifting from the flat to the physical.
On my return to London in 2019, I was offered 4 solo shows exploring my Hail the new Etruscan series. Hail the new Etruscan #1 at Danielle Arnaud featured drawings and double page spreads informed by Italian cinema. It was followed by Hail the new Etruscan #2 at Matt’s Gallery: screenings of 4 iPad films made in Rome and the UK. Hail the new Etruscan #3 included a site-specific film, drawings, ceramics and a bird recipe book responding to Pasolini’s Uccellacci e uccellini; which was exhibited at The Bower.
left: Etruscan fool coloured pencil on paper, 29.7 x 21cm; right: Etruscan moth, 2020, film still
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on ‘Horsepolish’ a film bringing de Sica’s ‘Sciuscia’  to the Ragged School Museum in East London. A conversation between the shoe shine street kids of Rome and impoverished Victorian children who were trained as shoe-shiners, newsboys and domestic workers.