Sensing Naples Artist Q&A | Aaron McPeake

Sensing Naples Artist Q&A | Aaron McPeake

Contemporary artist and sculptor Aaron McPeake had to abandon a long career in stage lighting after he lost most of his eyesight in 2002. He returned to education and pursued art on a full time basis, creating amazing works using numerous different media that can be experienced with senses beyond sight including sound, touch, and smell.

Now, Aaron has come to Compton Verney to create a sensational installation in response to our newly displayed Naples Gallery. Aaron is one of two artists commissioned in partnership with disability arts platform Unlimited to create new works for the gallery that both reference the historic collection and open up new ways of engaging the senses. His artwork contains a real piece of Vesuvius lava that you can interact with and three bronze cast bells almost identical to the lava that result in a beautiful sonorous tone when they collide. Continue reading to find out more.

‘Venus with Iapyx Tending the Wounded Aeneas’ by Francesco Solimena (1657-1747) being removed for the redisplay of the Naples Gallery in March 2023.

What interested and inspired you about Compton Verney and the Naples collection to create your artwork?

Quite a lot actually! Fantastic house, grounds and collections.

I first came to Compton Verney when it was practically a ruin in the mid-1980s and I think the renovation is fantastic and that the collection is even here at all when it might otherwise be locked away in a vault somewhere is, in itself, inspiring!

On the Naples collection, I teach art and design courses and I love the cultural significance of the artworks in Naples that are from the Grand Tour. They are not just pretty Italian paintings but reflect the Georgian fascination with the classical world and contain absurd scenes such as the volcano paintings where the people in them would have realistically died, either from sulphur dioxide or being incinerated!

I have also always been interested in geology and volcanology so when I came to see the Naples collection in the flesh, I was immediately drawn to the two Volaire paintings.

Volaire, An Eruption of Vesuvius by Moonlight © Compton Verney photo by John Hammond

Can you talk a bit about your creative process and how the exhibition space shaped your concept and work?

I wanted to make the artwork as sensory as possible and to respond to the Volaire volcano paintings. This led to acquiring a piece of Vesuvius lava from Naples that visitors could touch but it took a long time because it is a criminal offence to take anything from the site – even a blade of grass! I acquired the lava from an artist’s studio and it is likely that the rock is from a 19th century eruption.

While in Naples, I collected audio from street sounds and beaches which I later overlaid with orchestrated sounds of fizzing, bubbling and ominous rumbling to create a sound sculpture evocative of the unique experience that is Naples as a city living under the shadow of a volcano.

The bronze cast bells of the piece of lava are suspended directly from the ceiling of the gallery rather than from gallows because that would separate the work from the rest of the space. Instead, the sculpture appears to float within the space, aided by painting it in keeping with the gallery walls.

Installing loans from Heritage and Culture Warwickshire in the Naples Gallery.

How did you make your installation as accessible as possible?

The height and width of the plinth is accessible to wheelchair users and children and the installation is one of the few pieces in the galleries that can be touched and engaged with in different ways.

Beyond the ocular and witnessing the sight of the installation, visitors can choose to engage with the work purely by touch if they want to; the original rock can be touched as can the bronze bells. The sculpture then engages the visitor’s sense of smell due to the chemical reaction between the bronze and skin, resulting in a scent that can be experienced. The sound of the bells colliding is an auditory way to experience the installation, coupled with the audio sounds I have created.

However, there is deliberately no audio description of the artwork because I want the meaning of the artwork to be entirely subjective and it is the encounter with the artwork that articulates the experience to each person. The physical relationship with artwork is key.

A new large plinth being installed in the gallery for Sensing Naples in March 2023.

How do you think your work will interact with DYSPLA’s in the space?

I have met Lennie and Kazimir of DYSLPA in the Naples gallery as we both visited and developed our concepts and I think theirs will be brilliant. Our works engage multiple senses and respond to the Naples collection from a disability perspective and I think they will connect and complement each other in this way and both have an emphasis on touch.

I think that the more traditional materials of my work – bronze, natural materials, object casting- will contrast their more contemporary materials – digital sculpture and sound.

A new activity station designed to resemble Naples and Vesuvius being installed in the gallery in March 2023.

What do you hope visitors will take away with them after experiencing your installation?

Hopefully a modicum of pleasure! And something thought-provoking that reflects the expanded relationship between my work and the Volaire paintings, but also the relationship between themselves and the art. That they haven’t just looked at a painting, they have engaged with it completely – the encounter with the artwork is the message.


Come and see the opening of Sensing Naples on 1 April to experience Aaron’s work first hand as well as a range of other activities including a family-friendly curator tour, live music and fresh Neapolitan pizza! Or, visit our blog next week where we will be conducting a Q&A with other Sensing Naples artist, DYSPLA!