With Julian Mallia’s new exhibition – Julinu’s Radioactive Ravioli – now open, there’s ample time for you to enjoy the talent and humour in this exciting display. Jo Caruana discovers the connection between pop-surrealist art and pasta.

Julian Mallia – aka Julinu – isn’t one for keeping things average; he never quite fit a mould. In fact, although he originally graduated in psychology, he has since crafted a life for himself as an illustrator, fine artist and graphic designer – recently earning him recognition from the AOI World Illustration Awards.

More recently he was featured in The Power and Influence of Illustration, a book about contemporary illustration published by Bloomsbury UK, alongside a handful of world-renowned illustrators, including Dave McKean (who designed comic-book covers for Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman), Gerald Scarfe (creator of Pink Floyd’s The Wall), Milton Glaser (the man behind Bob Dylan’s iconic psychedelic poster) and cartoonist Quentin Blake (best known for illustrating Roald Dahl’s books).

Now, he has just launched his latest work – a collection of 17 pop surrealist oil paintings under the title of Julian’s Radioactive Ravioli. It will be on show until May 26 at Spazju Kreattiv, and entrance is free.

“It certainly feels strange to realise that the pieces I’ve been working on in solitude are now publicly exposed outside my studio,” Mallia tells me, when asked how he feels now that his innermost thoughts are on display to the world. “I’m not sure if there is a precise word that combines excitement, anxiety, relief, satisfaction, doubt, anticipation and sleep-deprivation…”

Error 404: Azure Window Not Found is a cheeky tribute to the fallen Azure Window

Mallia explains that he is fascinated by the notion of exploring ideas. Thus, in this – his debut solo exhibition – his collection has an aesthetically-pleasing, outward appearance that often conceals more thought-provoking implications. The result is an array of alternative visual interpretations of familiar notions and elements from pop culture that present a strangely familiar alternate universe.

“Ravioli provided a definite inspiration,” he says. “After all, they too conceal something within them – and we don’t know exactly what that is until we have tasted them. These paintings are similar in that way. While they are accessible to all audiences, they need to be explored in detail to be truly understood.”

Playing on both words and visuals, pieces in the exhibition include Space Ship, which depicts a luzzu (and which Mallia describes as an ‘overused as a cliché symbol of national identity’) and Error 404: Azure Window Not Found, which is a cheeky tribute to the fallen Azure Window in Gozo.

Qalb ta’ QalbiQalb ta’ Qalbi

“There’s definitely an element of dead-pan humour in the exhibition,” he continues, “which does help it fall into the pop-surrealism category that I have chosen for it. It’s playful. But that latter painting, for instance, is also a poignant reminder of loss and the void it can leave behind. At first you may laugh, but the implied narrative can be a bit more sobering.”

He also highlights the exhibition’s moody element throughout, with a subtle veil or melancholia that sits on top of the dry humour and social commentary. This ties in with that the fact that Mallia says he likes to create the kind of art that he would like to see more of – irrespective of what a potential audience could possibly like. “I think that, ironically, this approach is more likely to yield work that genuinely resonates with an audience,” he says.

“So, beyond the dry humour, this exhibition invites audience interaction through the interplay between the image and the accompanying title. This exploration of the overlap between verbal and visual language can give visitors a rather enjoyable experience that can also challenge conventional notions. I’m glad that the title and the unconventional nature of the work has attracted some positive or entertaining feedback such as ‘what do ravioli have to do with art?’. I hope people enjoy finding out!” he adds.

Julinu’s Radioactive Ravioli will be exhibited at Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta, until May 26. Entrance is free. More information regarding Julinu and his work may be found online at www.julinu.com.

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