Josh Lilley is pleased to present Of Saints and Sailors, Benedetto Pietromarchi’s third solo exhibition at the gallery, opening April 14 and running through May 17.
Of Saints and Sailors (2015–16) has its origins on a 26-day transatlantic journey on Cielo di Vaiano, a cargo ship carrying wood pulp from Uruguay to the Netherlands, where Pietromarchi joined a fraternity of 19 Filipino men whose lives are lived at sea. Through intimate daily sittings, Pietromarchi modelled busts of the sailors in clay.
Four of these busts form the centrepiece of this exhibition. Pedestals adorned with the stuff of the sea—chains and engines—yoke the men like wreaths or barnacles, evidence of the hermetic world they inhabit. Their heads, their minds, sit on top of the weather-beaten machines of industry and trade. The busts represent individual souls and a single collective existence in a sealed universe, a society of men whose work is invisible to the world and whose lives are shared only with each other. They are intense and masterful portraits, elemental evocations of the time the artist shared with these men, and poems about the act of labour shared by artist and worker alike.
“Traveling the network of sea routes between global markets where production, distribution and consumption are based encouraged me to consider my creative processes as an integral part of the global economy,” Pietromarchi writes, “but mine is an emotional economy focused on human values.”
A suite of photographic prints on wood pulp sheets, Noon Clouds (2016), serve as orientation against the immovable horizon and the distant companionship of clouds, the only evidence of time passing beyond the sea and the ship. Each work shows the view from Cielo di Vaiano’s top bridge at midday, with the map coordinates and date debossed underneath. A root attached to the centre of each seascape acts as an anchor to the earth. “At sea there is a daily necessity for some constant point to which the mind can hold itself,” Pietromarchi explains, reflecting on creation at the limits of human solitude.
Eight small sculptures connect Of Saints and Sailors’ singular, contained ambition to the modes of studio practice for which Pietromarchi has become known over the past 15 years. Organic forms sprout and bloom from smaller bits of industrial machinery in these works, as quiet elegies to the artist’s memories of his time at sea.