Mark Handforth's work often takes as its inspiration elements from the urban environment, for instance park benches, scooters, graffiti, parking meters and lampposts. These he reconfigures, carrying out surreal transformations either in the form of the original object or by additions and juxtapositions. Born in Hong Kong, raised in England and now resident in Miami, Handforth has been exposed to a wide range of cityscapes, studying in Frankfurt under Martin Kippenberger to whom his lampposts appear to pay tribute. Handforth, through his travels and his studies, has developed an ability to take shards of our surroundings and place them in a new, revelatory context, often maintaining a significant element of wit.
In carrying out this transformation in Vespa, Handforth has created a sculpture that is at once overt and inscrutable, romantic and mysterious. The use of a vespa was originally conceived for an exhibition held in Turin: in a sense, it recalls the quintessentially Italian phenomenon of young men and women hurtling along the streets of their native cities, a sight immortalised in the movie Roman Holiday. At the same time, Handforth deliberately referenced the British film Quadrophenia in a sister-work that involved a Vespa transformed into a fountain. In that film, based on the 'rock opera' of the same name by The Who, the scooters functioned as the extensions of and status symbols for the dapper drug-taking, counter-cultural Mods. The plot centred on the conflict between the Mods and the Rockers and had at its heart a doomed romance and a sense of disillusion, with the main character finally driving his former hero's scooter along the cliffs and then crashing it off the edge. The Vespa, then, can be seen to refer both to romance and to grim urban realities, to fantasy and to cynicism, while never abandoning a wry sense of play. The scooter has been transformed into a strange shrine, implying that this candle-covered scooter is more than a mere altar to the vintage design masterpiece that is the Vespa itself. The candles have dripped their wax, covering the vehicle in a rich mass of colours that decorate its surface, highlighting the fact that it is no longer intended for its original function, and also slyly evoke the surfaces of Jackson Pollock's Abstract Expressionist paintings, adding a knowing art-historical dimension to the work.