In Point of You, boundaries were blurred: the strictly intimate became public domain; the exhibition venue, which is usually a public space, set up boundaries as viewings were only by appointment. Is this a reflection of the world we live in where the definition of intimate and public have morphed into a non-mutually exclusive parameter?
The space the exhibition sought to take over – Level 2, Goldfield House, Iklin − was very important because of how it conditioned the way the works were consumed by the audience.
Working closely with curator Andrew Borg Wirth, I wanted to create an experience which was intimate enough for the works to be enjoyed safely by small groups within the current pandemic-related conditions. The liminal state in which the location was installed contributed to the overall experience that the event took on.
The abandoned space was large, raw and intuitively spaced with works. Here, people were led through my most intimate images in order to understand and relate better to something that was very personal to me. The nature of this exhibition was extremely personal and required an accompanying space which would allow people into that element. Together, we tried to have this come across through a space that performs as the public made their way through it.
The nude self-portrait is a genre of painting that exposes the artist on many levels. What is especially challenging when embarking on such depictions of oneself?
I never really took the time to observe myself the same way I was constantly studying people as I most enjoy painting the human form. I suffered from body dysmorphia a few years ago where I went from completely avoiding any form of reflective surface to studying all of my discomforts to the extent where I became fully acquainted and knowledgeable about myself.
To me, that was the hardest step to take, turning the camera on me and looking at myself in a way that wasn’t flattering to me at the time. The more I got used to it, the more I became comfortable in my own skin; it was almost like exposure therapy. Once I got so involved with doing this documentation process (starting from a series of photos to the paintings), I became more intrigued to know the way my body contorts itself, what flatters me and what doesn’t. Stances, posture, light all have such an impact in the way we are seen.
Are these paintings an expression of your vulnerability or your strength? Or is acknowledging one’s own inherent vulnerability a measure of one’s strength?
This collection has been an ongoing documentation of around 18 months. Through the series of paintings, it is noticeable where I am more vulnerable and where I have executed this issue into a strength. I definitely think they go hand in hand, I’ve had to be vulnerable to let myself grow. Now I would definitely express this series as my strength, however, it was not always the case. I did not intend to exhibit this collection from the start, it was just a means of content for me as an artist.
This theme hasn’t been explored a lot in great depth in Malta. The only example I can think of relevant to Maltese art history is Antoine Camilleri and his nude self-portraits, which were intimate expressions of vulnerability. Internationally, Paula Modershon Becker was, I believe, the first female artist to overcome the inhibition and paint herself in the nude. Do you find that the Maltese audience is still reluctant to acknowledge the nude as being just another mode of self-expression in the same vein that acknowledges the still life or the landscape as art genres?
My experience with groups has been very encouraging in that, rather than expressing discomfort or shock towards the collection, there was admiration when allowing the self-analysis of one’s self in this contemporary time. Many guests said this exhibition was as ‘bold’ because of an inadequacy on their part to offer for consumption the image of their nude body, which says a lot about the time in which we live.
This was a process rooted in vulnerability and exposure to something I was not comfortable with
Fundamentally, it was the political impetus behind the work and the process behind creating these paintings that struck a chord most; which I think is important to consider because of the relatability with the work. This was a process that was rooted in vulnerability and exposure to something I was not comfortable with and, because of that, people engaged most. I think self-expression is not reserved to any one medium or genre but, rather, needs to be channelled into the right processes of research and challenge that one needs to gauge for oneself.
You invited your audience to get to know you more by walking them through the exhibition. Do you think that the subject matter was conducive to an explanation from the artist that wouldn’t have been possible during a social event?
To myself and Andrew, the alternate way we sought to exhibit was complementary to Point of You, being that it is such an intimate collection. We wanted to give the audience a chance to relate to the work and interpret it their own way as well as understand where the artist came from. It was important for me to be there and interact with such intimate groups as part of my learning experience too. I also got to gauge how my work was received and I was pleasantly surprised. With such a collection, a social gathering could have taken away from the art, yes.
Your first exhibition, Plajja: Playa, dealt with observing anonymous people being unselfconscious on the beach, as one finds in the paintings of Joaquin Sorolla. It dealt with open spaces and blinding sunlight. Point of You eliminates the sense of anonymity as the title of the exhibition removes any doubt whatsoever regarding the protagonist of these paintings. It also relates to the confines of a studio space. Did you find the passage from one theme to another as being disconcerting? Were you afraid of you?
My mentor in Barcelona had mentioned how she believes that I decided to observe and paint a certain type of person in my Plajja: Playa collection. Someone who is confident and nonchalant on the beach, a place which I used to find so intimidating. Now that I look back on it, I do believe that I craved the confidence they had and it is probably why they attracted me so much. Although people might not see the connection in my collections, it is evidently there. I was definitely afraid of turning the lens on me but I was more eager to overcome my issues with the medium I best know, my art.
Which artists, local and international, do you feel to be your artistic soulmates? Offhand, I see affinity with the work of Chantal Joffe, Marlene Dumas and Maria Lassnig, incidentally all female artists. Am I off the mark?
Not off mark at all, they’re all amazing artists. I look up to and aspire to be like them, including Jenny Saville and Judy Chicago. I feel like I can relate to their work because, yes, we are women in the industry and it is from a similar perspective but the ideology behind their work is a constant message I would like to pass on through my work too.
I’m feeling like I am in an experimental phase. Many mediums entice me and I want to continue learning and exploring new ways of expressing myself. It’s all been such a wonderful journey of self-expression where I might continue or turn the lens on someone new and dear to me. I haven’t yet felt the need to take too much time off as yet, however, I have only been full time for around two years.