Bruce Atherton

Bruce Atherton: art king, admired in the Eternal City

An ode to the artist who fled to Italy and changed Rome’s art scene forever 

Your children, and your children’s children, and every generation after that will know about Bruce Atherton. The British-born artist escaped to Italy’s chic Mediterranean cobbles, where he collaborated with the Vatican to create paintings of neo-canonized saints and official portraits. Bruce worked on 13 official images for the Vatican – all of which will be admired for centuries to come. He also co-founded Milan’s Metropolism movement – in case you needed any more reason to celebrate the work of this timeless individual. 

Bruce has since returned to the UK, where he signed with Runway Gallery. Here, he continues his world domination, as his pieces grace exhibition spaces everywhere from the Royal Palace of Copenhagen to Das Baumhaus in Berlin. Magazine sat down with Bruce, who shared more about his impulsive move across the continent, his life in London, and his extensive record collection.

When you start a new series, where do you begin, and what does the creative process usually involve? 

I am a terrible perfectionist. I am notorious for overthinking projects and losing myself in research, which can often lead to avoidance and procrastination! This usually really annoys me to the point where I end up going to the studio and diving into the work no matter what comes out on the other end. Once I start the painting, my heart and spirit open, and the ideas begin to flow. The more time I spend painting, the clearer everything becomes, and the more I see what I want the work or series to be.

How has your artistic technique developed throughout your career? 

From when I was very young, I was obsessed with learning how to paint. I went to St.Martins in the late eighties, and no one cared for learning a skill in those days. As a result, I decided to push my skills as far as I could on my own. 

In my mid-twenties, I moved to Rome and really immersed myself in my work. I had mastered realism in my own way and felt that I could paint whatever I wanted; however, it was at this point I knew it was time to explore the what. So, I began to open up that technique, to free it up to deal with the energies and emotions that I felt. My work just exploded in colour and content. Since then, I have constantly been exploring both techniques and different expressions of inner and outer realities.

Just Lust by Bruce Atherton

Describe your work in no more than four words. 

Intense, inter-dimensional, beautiful, loved.

Beyond the relationship between fashion and art, which other themes does your work pursue? 

My work explores consciousness, freedom, and the idea that we create our reality – also, psychological states and the interdependence of all things.

Sasha Pivovarova. I would love to work with her as both a model and a creator. I respond artistically to powerful, conscious and challenging energies, and these energies are written all over her.

If you had to pinpoint a defining moment in your career, what would it be? 

When I decided to leave everything behind in London and head off to Rome to devote myself to my dream of being the most authentic artist I could be to my talents. This sent a ripple out into the universe and opened so many amazing doors to adventure, beautiful souls, insane challenges, and unexpected possibility.

Liminal by Bruce Atherton

Name three artists to which you’d like to be compared.

The truth is I would prefer not to be compared to anyone.

What memorable responses have you had to your work? 

There have been so many. However, once many years ago, I was doing a solo show at Banca D’Italia in Rome, and a young woman came into the show and looked at the work for hours. She later told me that she thought she had been hit with the Syndrome of Stendahl, where she simply couldn’t bear the idea of dragging herself away from the work.

Where in the world do you feel the most creative? What is it about that place that makes you feel that way?

I feel most creative in Rome. There is something about being there, surrounded by old masters at every turn, that just switches on my desire to push my limits. The city’s energy also changed my painting and perception of colour and light and made me understand what I really want from life. That’s part of why I stayed there for ten years.

Transcendence by Bruce Atherton

Which piece of art has left the most significant impact on you, and why? 

The Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velasquez. I’d just been asked by the Vatican to paint Pope John Paul II, so for inspiration, I went to see that work. It hit me with the force of a cannonball. The power and intensity all painted with a spontaneity that just spoke volumes to me at that time.

Do you have a particular record that gets you in the right mood for working? If so, what is it? 

I have been told that I have one of the most eclectic record collections in the world! I cannot work without music, and I’ve been painting now for nearly half a century almost every day, constantly listening to music – each phase of work has its own random soundtrack. 

Which one of your pieces makes you the proudest?

I have never tried to define any specific work as one that makes me proud. I have a very holistic view of my work. I feel that each piece contributes to the whole. It’s as if they all form a part of a greater soul, and there lies my joy or pain depending on how the work is going.

Check by Bruce Atherton

How do you usually celebrate when you finish a challenging piece or series? 

I put so much energy and time into my work that there is usually none left to celebrate with when they are finished! It’s generally more relief than a celebration! The only exception to this is perhaps when I have been commissioned to produce work, and the client is super happy. Then the celebration comes through – remembering why I chose the art path in the first place.

Can you reveal any plans for the future? 

I still feel that there is something truly great that I still want to express, and I’m going to do it no matter what it may be and with as much intensity as I can muster.

Keep up to date with Bruce on his Instagram @bruceathertonfineart

By Megan Slack – Contributing Editor at Magazine by Runway Gallery