Ahead of his first solo free exhibition titled Andra’ Tutto Bene in Florence at Magazzino 5, Museo Bellini (lungarno Soderini 5) from September 22 to October 5, we spoke with the sculptor and educator Jason Arkles about what viewers can expect.
When did you realize you were a sculptor?
When I was young, it was always Play-Doh rather than crayons for me, but growing up before the Internet in the United States meant that I had no exposure to anyone who made art their profession. I never considered it as a possible career, simply because I assumed figurative sculpture was something that people used to do centuries ago, but somehow we collectively lost the knowledge, or the will, or maybe the reason, to continue. The day I discovered that a traditional figurative sculpture education was obtainable was the day I devoted my life to it, and I have never looked back.
What brought you to Florence and what made you stay?
I was travelling through in my early 20s, rambling around Europe with several other young tourists I had met in Paris. The plan was to be in Florence for five days; one of our group happened to have a brother who was attending the Charles H. Cecil Studio here in Florence, and after a life-changing, almost epiphany-like studio tour, I realized that I was going to be here for longer than five days. It’s been 26 years and counting.
Where can we find your creations?
I was honoured by being chosen to create a marble statue of Saint Mark for St. Mark’s English Church, on via Maggio. It’s located in the only niche on the church façade, so it’s quite prominent. I believe I’m the only American to have a permanent marble statue on the streetscape of Florence, and it’s the work that sort of put me on the map 15 years ago. I have several marble and bronze works in churches and cemeteries across the United States as well, but most of my work comes in the form of private commissions, rather than creating work for galleries and exhibitions. That’s one of the things that makes my upcoming exhibition so special, it’s my first solo show, and the first time I’ve exhibited at all in years.
A place that inspires you in Florence.
The Church of Orsanmichele, hands down! I could talk for an hour about that place. The sculptural scheme on the exterior of the church seems like a fairly straightforward collection of saints in niches, if you don’t know about the history of Orsanmichele. But that squat little church is Ground Zero for Renaissance sculpture.
Tell us about the collection that will be on display.
Andrà Tutto Bene is an exhibition of figurative sculpture in marble, bronze and terracotta; most notable are several over-life-sized figures I have made in terracotta, which is a rare and difficult thing to pull off. But what really sets my work apart is the narrative nature of my work. You won’t find any anonymous figure studies or torso studies at my show—you’ll find identifiable characters, both narrative and allegorical, which tell a story, convey a message or illustrate a theme. I’m not hesitant to take a stand or make a point with my work, and my sense of theatre and storytelling helps me to make those points clearly. My style is also characterized by a sense of humor and wit.
What are you interested in communicating with your works and what do you hope will be the main take-away for viewers?
Many of the works deal with disillusionment over relationships, power and authority, religion, and even art itself. Others make an appeal for the recognition of the humanity in all of us. Some offer both. But I do not view disillusionment as a negative thing—losing the illusion and seeing the reality of the world means we can hopefully move forward. Even so, I still do not know exactly what I intended when I decided to name the show Andrà Tutto Bene, or Everything Will Be All Right. I have no idea whether I am being achingly sincere or ferociously sarcastic. Is it possible to be both?