With a self-explanatory title, Insights is WALLACE FALZON’s fourth solo exhibition. Joseph Agius talks to the artist about his outlook on life and how it reflects in his art.
JA: Insights is your fourth solo exhibition in the space of almost four years. Your preceding exhibitions dealt with existential pain in the face of personal turmoil and your expression could be regarded as a catharsis. Artistic creation was a way out of psychological debilitation. Has this changed?
WF: I must admit that it has developed, and there’s more reflection to it. As the title of the exhibition, Insights, suggests, the exercise has been a process of reflection. I analysed social situations, my family, and embarked on caricature to portray current situations. It’s still a personal journey and I believe it will remain so. I’m not a painter of pretty pictures; I endeavour to give meaning, one that resonates differently with everybody as we are different from each other.
A single colour can affect you emotionally; it could be a part of the picture that provokes a reaction, or it might be the property of the whole composition that elicits personal relevance. I find beauty in this ‒ there’s a narrative aspect and my autobiography as a personal journey. However, what is communicated to the viewer could be very different and could deviate from my original concept.
JA: You have a very positive outlook on life – talking to you reinforces the impression that you rationalise life and its shortcomings. Does this dichotomy define you as a sculptor by essentially becoming your fingerprint, in the sense that some of your work is playful while other work relates to existentialism? Or is your art representative of the dualities of life?
WF: I believe I am a positive person. The colour scheme I use is very bright, usually indicative of a positive person. However, I consider myself a problem-solver. I don’t live in denial. I give a name to a problem to help me deal with it. Conversely, I don’t deny the existence of the negative and dark aspects of life, but one has to move forward.
Art is a medium that helps me think, and which instructs me to arrive at some sort of conclusion. I suffer from chronic medical conditions, and there’s nothing one can do about them but to accept them. Sometimes, when I’m down, bearing in mind that I’m human and not immune to pain, I can rationalise my mood much more effectively by expressing myself artistically. Artistic expression gives me personal positive feedback which reduces the discomfort. Even though I might be experiencing pain that is excruciating, the positive feedback that I receive through this eases and transcends the pain itself. There is a paradox in all of this, but it really makes sense for me.
My reflections on the general public were developed more. There are reflections about society, about alienation, about international news. COVID-19 locked everybody in domestic safety. Probably the most followed programme during these two years was the news, carrying daily COVID statistics as a headline. This contributed more to a collective depression. But all in all, now that we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, my art proposed a positive perspective even during the worst of times.
JA: What are the sparks that kindle your concepts?
WF: There is family – family generates a lot of emotions; there’s the social aspect – this much more so during COVID times. I elaborate on this further as I’ve seen changes in society, friends and fellow artists. Their fears and emotions resonated with mine which precipitated the need to express this artistically. Moreover, there’s the personal journey that I reflect upon, especially in my Executive Series, which occupies quite a large section of the exhibition.
The title of this series can be regarded as a pun: sometimes, we are too ‘serious’ in our jobs. Nearly a decade ago, I left that lifestyle behind me but this does not mean I don’t reflect on that particular period of my life. At times I pity some of my old friends’ present life situations because they have no time for themselves, and life is really short.
Sometimes, when I’m down, bearing in mind that I’m human and not immune to pain, I can rationalise my mood much more effectively by expressing myself artistically- Wallace Falzon
For me, acknowledging that an individual is very talented but is too busily engaged in the mores of his work and his profession is a great loss; it is not making the best of one’s life. Not having time to evaluate one’s thoughts and life beyond work is sorrowful. In actual fact, I had to change course due to medical reasons and this helped me reflect a lot, and that changed me deeply.
I started seeing things I was unable to see before; life and work rushed by at a hundred miles an hour. Art helped me reflect and enjoy the present moment. We don’t have the past, as that is gone forever; and the future is intangible; what we have is the present and we should appreciate it much more.
JA: This is your second solo being curated by Roderick Camilleri, following Pursuits of October 2019. You recycle material to produce some of your art. Besides being a curator Camilleri is also an artist concerned with environmental issues and introduces recycling in his own work. Has the curatorship been rendered more effective because of this?
WF: I ask Roderick to criticise my work. The advantage of him being an artist himself is that he can point out the flaws in my work. Something defective in the artwork could be staring right at me but I would be blind to it. When somebody indicates my shortcomings, the scales fall and my viewpoint changes.
The principle of recycling is not exploited just by me and Roderick alone. It is becoming a universal principle of society. We live in a society of waste. Why should I throw away, for instance, a mobile phone? It is a machine, a tool that had served me for a couple of years which needs disposal. What a waste of material and resources.
In fact, in one of the artworks, I used a mobile that I had accidentally dropped in water. For framing, I recycle wood from pallets that were meant to be thrown away. The exercise was much more labour-intensive but more satisfying in the sense that I did not take up more resources, as material was upcycled. People become more sensitive to environmental issues and appreciate the effort. It is not an exercise in saving money as the labour intensity of it is still there.
JA: Giacometti once said: “The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.” Does the filtering out and the reduction of human volume to the most empirical of humanoid forms magnify this intensity?
WF: I like this statement by Giacometti. Giacometti is an artist I admire a lot, but I would like to point out that I’m not influenced by him. In fact, I discovered him later, long after I had embarked on this stylisation in my sculptural output. Giacometti was pessimistic in his approach – he experienced the trauma of two world wars, which presumably altered his perspective. That was a terrible time to be in, and this is honestly reflected in his art. It is an advantage that I did not go through these cataclysms. Therefore, my approach tends to be a more positive one.
Through the stylisation, I don’t get to focus on detail but on the essence of the message. If, for instance, I create a figure in which the gender is ambiguous, then the viewer’s personal association with any gender could be made through that piece of art. Otherwise, had the detail been intensified, this may have resulted in a chunk of society not engaging with it. My paintings are different. I introduce substantial detail, using a light brush and making use of vibrant and intensive colours.
Insights, curated by Roderick Camilleri and hosted by the Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo de la Salle, Republic Street, Valletta, runs until March 23. Log on to the event’s Facebook page for opening times.
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