The Mexican artist Bosco Sodi is renowned for his large-scale, richly textured abstract paintings, made with a range of organic materials including sawdust, wood, pulp and raw pigments, and with which Sodi embraces the role of chance and accident. For his next exhibition – ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’, the result of a residency at the Palazzo Vendramin Grimani – in Venice (23 April–27 November), Sodi has left his canvases to weather on the ground floor of the palazzo for several weeks, exposed to the atmosphere of the lagoon. The exhibition also includes 195 small clay spheres, moulded from the soil of his native Oaxaca; the number corresponds to the world’s nation states. Each visitor will be encouraged to move one of the globes, while at the end of the show Venetian residents will be able to take one home with them – a reflection on the processes of cultural and commercial exchange between Mexico and the West that have gone on for centuries. As part of the residency, Sodi has set up his own makeshift studio in the palazzo; here, he tells Apollo about the differences with his usual spaces in New York and Oaxaca.
How did you go about setting up your makeshift studio at the Palazzo Vendramin Grimani?
Well, we knew that this space was complicated – I’m used to a bigger studio space, where I don’t care if there are stains in the walls, which lends itself to a very free way of working. My studio manager and I have brought a number of tools from home, and we’ve had to source a few things here like buckets, sawdust etc. We didn’t bring any home comforts – but I very much like the process of warming up before beginning the paintings.
What do you like most about working in the space?
The view of the Grand Canal. When we’re having a break, we’ll open the door and sit outside with the boats passing, throwing bread to the seagulls. My studio in New York is also close to the water – I like the humidity, and the movement.
In your own space, there’s a freer way of working. Is there anything else that’s been tricky?
The space is very narrow, and that dictates a lot of my movement while I’m doing the paintings. You don’t have space to see them from a distance – but then, these spatial conditions change the outcome of the painting which makes it more interesting. I will always remember that these paintings were made in Venice. It’s not just that the physical interaction with the works is more restrained – it’s the air, the weather [in which they have been left for several weeks unattended], that means they’re completely different to paintings of that type I’ve made in New York. They have the energy of the space and the water – I feel like they’re locals, you know.
How else do you think the city has fed into the work you’ve been making?
Venice is a place of textures – you see the deteriorating walls, the stains, and I love that because it’s similar to my work, which is concerned with organic deterioration, and the patinas it creates. Every corner of Venice can be a painting if you look at the walls closely – they remind me of Tàpies, or Kiefer. I’ve been visiting all the churches and looking at the classical Venetian painters, getting to feel the essence of Venice in the colours – the blacks, the reds, the blues used by classical masters like Tintoretto.
What has your typical studio lunch been while in Venice?
For me, painting is a joy, but so is having a good lunch. There is a beautiful plaza here – normally I go at about 1pm, ask for a nice table, order a bottle of wine and have a pizza or a pasta and then come back to work; it’s all part of the joy of life.
Do you prioritise lunch at home as well?
In New York I do usually go home and eat a good lunch with wine, but it’s not the same!
What books have you taken with you?
I’m re-reading Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis – it’s a book that I read a long time ago and have recently recommended to my kids so decided to read it again. I’ve always read a lot, but it’s normally quite random.
Do you paste up pictures of other artists’ work on your walls?
No, I tend to go by memory.
Who’s the most interesting visitor you’ve had over to you in Venice?
My son, from London. He helps me a lot in the studio in New York or in Casa Wabi [in Oaxaca] – I always find his point of view very truthful.
Will you miss Venice or will you be glad to be home?
I was speaking to my wife and kids on Saturday and I did say to them I’ll miss this afterwards – working all day and then going for a nice lunch with Italian red wine. I’m beginning to fall in love with Venice. I’ve always liked it, but when you spend a few weeks you begin to feel the energy of the place, find the small places the tourists don’t get to. When you begin to forge a deeper connection with a place like that, you begin to fall in love with it.
‘Bosco Sodi: What Goes Around Comes Around’ is at the Palazzo Vendramin Grimani, Venice, from 23 April–27 November.