Rome Paintings: Leon Morrocco

1 - 31 January 2003

"Italy has been a constant in my life since childhood when my father took my family from Scotland to Italy every summer."

We mostly spent two months in Anticoli Corrado, a hill village east of Rome and near Tivoli. My father painted there throughout the summer and it was there in the 1950’s that I made my first serious attempts at drawing.


Aged 15 and bored, I took to accompanying him into the hills on his painting trips and began to draw all the aspects of rural peasant life that still existed at that time – donkeys, mules, pigs, farm buildings, washerwomen at the river and so on. I still have some of those early efforts and they differ surprisingly little in the basic approach to my present work.


These summer sojourns from the cold northern climes of Scotland, to the heat of the Roman hills must have had an unconscious but profound affect on me as a child and

adolescent, and instilled in me a love of sunlight, something I find almost impossible to exclude from my work. Of course, a love affair with Italy and the Mediterranean ensued and although living and teaching in Scotland (1966–69) at the Edinburgh College of Art and from 1969–79 at the Glasgow School of Art, numerous trips were made to Italy and much of my work was developed from drawings done there.


In 1980 I was offered and accepted the position of Head of Fine Art at an art school in Melbourne, Australia which meant a 12 year gap in my trips to the Mediterranean. On returning to the UK in 1992 I was once again drawn to Italy and the Med as a source for painting ideas and I also spent some time in Greece.


Renting an apartment in Antibes (1997–2000) led to three years work there as well as in Nice, Juan–les–Pins, Mewton and into Italy – Ventimiglia and Bordighera. I also spent time drawing in Corsica. The resulting work was shown in London at the John Martin Gallery and at the Open Eye Gallery, Edinburgh. By the year 2000 I was desperate to obtain a more permanent base in Italy and took an apartment/studio in Rome. It was a return to the city with which I had become familiar on those early family summers in the 1950s. 


This was both an exciting and productive period. I immersed myself in drawing the remains of ancient Rome alongside a modern Rome, and the relationship between its history and its people. I soon built up a large group of drawings which constituted a kind of portrait of the city and from which I was able to develop a series of large paintings, culminating in the largest – some 18 x 7 feet – of the Colosseum. During this period I was able to explore other parts of Italy and found lots to interest me in Terracina, Naples and Sicily.