“I always wanted to focus on the daily mundane – what happens behind closed doors,” began artist Gabriel Buttigieg about his latest exhibition Narratives for Postmodern Love, currently showing at The Splendid in Valletta.

The exhibition, curated by Lisa Gwen, is a visual essay that portrays the way we love and also perceive love in the 21st century.

This collection of works is an intimate series in which the artist says he unleashes his deepest emotions onto the canvas.

“My work has a tendency to seem sexual but, in reality, I see it as anything but,” says Buttigieg, referring to the depictions of explicit sexual imagery in his artworks.

One of the works exhibited.One of the works exhibited.

“Rather, I see the artworks as a collection of emotions that crystallise in their totality during some kind of intimate activity, including anxiety, nostalgia, doubt and fear.”

He went on to describe how the title of the exhibition was put forward by Lisa  who wanted to name it so as she wanted to interpret these ideas and feelings in the contemporary world, but these emotions have been around since time immemorial, he said.

“We wanted to remind people – in contrast to other shows today where oftentimes one is exposed to a very clinical experience of an exhibition – that these emotions are still valid, relevant and ever-present given that we are all human beings,” said Buttigieg.

The exhibition is on until December 22.The exhibition is on until December 22.

He posited that, today, we are living in a world that is becoming more and more clinical and mechanical in its interactions, and sexuality itself is becoming very artificial.

“In fact, this work will be felt to be very graphic. With sex being so easily available today – you meet, do the deed and leave – the undertone of the exhibition is actually extremely sad. There’s an element of lack and loss throughout,” said Buttigieg. 

He admits that the work of British artist Tracey Emin is a constant inspiration and that he admires her perseverance and resilience in the face of the most abject cancer-related traumas she had to endure, which included surgical removal of affected organs.

Despite the overt sexual nature of his paintings, the artist says that by this he means primarily the psychoanalytic determinism of human beings – “the instinct that reigns supreme, but not just the sexual act”.

Asked whether there is an element of self-consciousness in his work, Buttigieg said that all the work emerged from the deepest depths of himself.

Buttigieg said that all the work emerged from the deepest depths of himself.Buttigieg said that all the work emerged from the deepest depths of himself.

“I don’t think my work has ever been this dark. The contrast lies in the fact that I have never used such vivid colour before in my work,” he said.

Referencing the artworks in the exhibition depicting lesbian scenes, Buttigieg said that, when reflecting on the work, he would often ask himself why he, as a man and a male artist, kept depicting such scenes in his artworks and not ones with men.

“It may sound a bit distorted to hear,” he said, “but I consider myself a very feminine person in my character and inclinations. Even the fact that I was raised by my father and got my nurturing component from him made an impact, and even though I’m a male and like women, I perceive myself being much more feminine than male in disposition. I still haven’t come to fully understand what this means, but my psyche is very feminine.

The undertone of the exhibition is actually extremely sad. There’s an element of lack and loss throughout- Gabriel Buttigieg

“The woman depicted on the canvas, subconsciously and consciously, is actually a depiction of my own self,” he confessed.

Buttigieg’s work, perhaps due to its explicit nature, has also garnered its share of criticism, especially with regards to his depiction of women.

“When I attended a residency in the UK last year, I would hear a lot of comments about my work where people interpreted it as being misogynistic,” said the artist.

Another painting on show at The Splendid.Another painting on show at The Splendid.

The works in question, he explained, contained explicit sexual depictions involving women and animal figures.

“What was probably happening with those paintings was that I was likely tapping into certain current events happening at that time, such as the murders of Pelin Kaya and Bernice Cassar, but rather, people were interpreting that I was the perpetrator in those images. I was getting tired of these comments, especially when all I try to do in my work is glorify women, even if there are certainly less altruistic undertones in some works,” he said.

He confessed that having curator Lisa on his side greatly helped to quell the doubts these comments had instilled in him.

“She gave me the ability to express myself in my totality since she is able to express what the work is about. The ugly truth is the fact that I am a white man in the West also prejudices people against my work; had a woman produced such images, I doubt she would have received the same negative reaction I had. In this exhibition, I felt free to express and release these images because I had Lisa on my team.

Another exhibitAnother exhibit

“I don’t think I ever had a more intimate relationship with a curator than I have had with Lisa,” said the artist.

Indeed, Lisa likewise considered the collaboration to have been massively fruitful.

“Gabriel approached me in January 2022,” said the curator.

“He told me he wanted to go back to ‘basics’, to put the myths, the symbols and the allegories to bed and focus on real scenarios; but I could also tell he longed for a bold, expressive freedom. All I did was feed his hunger.”

Lisa spoke about Buttigieg’s obsessive insistence in portraying the feminine.

“It is no secret that I am quite the feminist, and his unabashed work always struck me. Although some may contest this, his work is a celebration of the female form, which he is in awe of and which he never tires of portraying,” she pointed out. 

Another painting on showAnother painting on show

The curator also affirmed “it is not easy having a sensitive disposition towards the feminine when you’re a straight, Caucasian male who tends to release much energy onto the surfaces of his paintings in an increasingly raw and bold manner.

“I feel this is some of Gabriel’s strongest work, specifically because this is a most personal collection; in some ways, the work was cathartic and therapeutic,” the curator concludes.

The exhibition is showing until December 22. This project is supported by The Splendid, Andre Gialanze Photography, DV Trading, Gemelli Framing and Funderija Artistika Chetcuti.

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