Here is my piece ‘Do you have change for a denarius?’ What would you say is depicted here? Roman centurions or Roman Legionnaires?
Surprisingly, it’s neither of those. The secret lies in which century you live. These are actually fake soldiers that harangue tourists for money outside the Colosseum in modern day Rome!
From time to time I look through old holiday photos to get inspiration for my next piece. I giggled when I saw this photo from a trip to Rome in the summer of 56BC (I mean 2007). Here they are pestering my friends and I. I won’t repeat what he said to me…titter!
Then I found this one…
I have no idea whether the broom handle headdress is authentic, but I thought this scene would make for an awesome way to capture prominent and vibrant reds. You don’t often see an expanse of red in nature, so this was a good way to finally give my red hued pencils a whirl.
The cool thing about this piece is you can create your own story! I never actually heard what they were saying when they were huddled together. Given their Oliver Twist line of work, I’m not even sure I would want to know!
· Maybe they are strategising their next conquest.
· As my artwork title suggests, it’s possible they need spare change for a Coke.
· Or perhaps they are just speculating why Julius Caesar keeps Instagramming his salad.
Sometimes that’s the bizarre thing about being an artist. I can chuckle to myself about what inspired a piece and I can relive spontaneous moments from my past, but someone else can still see it through a different lens. The viewer may converse about the overthrow of the Roman Empire and how gladiators were war prisoners and criminals (Rather unsettling when you consider the relative ease with which you could obtain a pair of ‘gladiator boots’ in 2002.)
As I do with many of my pieces, I intentionally left out the background e.g. the Colosseum, ancient ruins and gelato stands. It allows the viewer to be in any time or place and just focus on the happenings of the main subject, imagining it as they wish. I actually love this piece, and have it displayed in my home awaiting its forever home. It reminds me of my 20s and fun. It reminds me that ananas means pineapple and that togas should be left in the 1st century.
Getting back to the reds in this piece. Red was an important and sacred colour to the Romans. It often signified war and power. Through complicated processes they produced dyes such as madder (from the madder herb) and crimson otherwise known as carmine (from insects). What I find fascinating is that some of the red pencils I used are still called madder, crimson and carmine (sans the insects)!
The below video shows some footage of the layering process required to achieve the correct hue. This piece took over two weeks to complete, primarily because of the number of colours and layers needed to achieve just the right kind of red.
I’ve since been back to Rome. For the most part, fake Romans have even been ousted from power to make way for selfie-stick sellers.
As Julius Caesar salad once said “Veni, vidi, vici”. They came, they saw, they conquered!
Head over to my shop where you can find absolutely no selfie sticks but definitely originals and prints of my pieces like ‘Do you have change for a denarius?’.