Malta InsideOut is also about those who straddle being insiders and outsiders. More often than not, these are Maltese who’ve left their homeland to pursue their ambitions abroad. These are people who’ve often made their mark in their new bases, and have a cultural and creative talent worth celebrating. We ask what makes them tick, why they left and what they miss about Malta.
In this first article, we feature Lisa Falzon, a 26-year old Maltese artist who is currently based in Ireland. She moved there two years ago and lived in France for a year before that. Besides creating personal works and illustration pieces, Lisa also writes. Her first novel was published by Merlin, in Malta, and is called ‘Xi Mkien Iehor’. She also writes micro-fiction, which she publishes online. Lisa runs an online gallery, as well as her blog and has an online art shop on the international website for handmade goods, Etsy.
Why do you paint?
All children paint. In my case, people seemed to catch on early that I had a special interest in it. I recall aged four, being fussed over by a kindergarten teacher for my drawing of ‘six snails’. It kind of then clicked in my head that drawing was something special, and it made me want to draw more and more. I was lucky to have a creative family – both my parents were imaginative and created in several different fields, from watercolours to pottery.
I was sent to art lessons when I was about ten years old, but they didn’t go down too well with me. I liked to do my own thing and listen to music or space out when I draw. I stopped going for lessons before I got my Art O level and went on to study sciences at school. I may not have painted every day after that but I was doing something creative every day, be it building something out of a shoebox, binding a ‘book’, making up stories with my brother and sister. All this worked instead of ‘art education’. It was ‘imagination education’. Ultimately I never studied art technique properly, through lessons – but I learnt a lot through my voracious love of art history.
I had my first exhibition at 16, my biggest solo exhibition at age 22 at St James Cavalier, and then a small exhibition in Paris, after I moved. In Paris, the tininess of my apartment made me shun the cumbersome easel and I naturally delved into the world of digital art. Three years later and I am still in love with the medium. I feel I can express myself digitally best of all. The process does not require extensive planning as you can move elements around, so I never get stuck with a composition I dislike half way, the way I used to while painting on canvas. I can focus completely on developing a story. I opened my own print shop and sell unique items of wearable art online. The business took off in just a year, so I am now able to pursue it exclusively. I love that I have a job that allows me flexible hours, free time and I do not have to meet people every day. This is what I would do, even if I didn’t need a job.
Why do you write a blog?
I guess there is an element of narcism in keeping a blog and some arrogance associated with the assumption that people want to know details about your life. (Twitter is an even more narcistic medium as it assumes people want to know moment-to-moment, 140-character updates of your life!)
But hand-on-heart, I run a blog is mainly as a business tool. These days, most artists have a blog. It allows potential clients (like publishers) to get to know a bit about you. It’s also a way in which to keep followers of your art informed of your progress. It is a better way of making a connection online than a simple online portfolio. The web has become informal, and online portfolios of the past feel a bit passé. In my case, running an online art business, the blog allows me to announce new items. It’s basically a personal podium. Used wisely, a blog can be a great aid to any artist.
Describe your painting in a sentence.
My paintings are stories in picture-form. Art is an important medium of self expression for me. I tell stories and ideas with my art. I like original ideas, unusual situations, twists and a dash of dark humour. Sometimes they are ideas I didn’t even know I wanted to express in the first place… so I find myself in my paintings too. I guess I paint because I need a way in which to let loose these ideas… it is the same reason I write.
Warhol, Picasso or Botticelli?
I am not a big fan of Warhol, or Picasso… so it’s Boticelli. I dislike Warhol because he is a little too ‘Pop’ for me. And I dislike Picasso because he created a slew of imitators which is why we still have ‘cubists’ to this day. I actually joke a bit here. I appreciate both artists for what they did. In the pyramid of art history, they fit and make sense (though they tried hard not to, I think). I am fond of Picasso’s ‘blue period’ work.
I love figurative and representational art. My favourites involve realism, a sense of drama and something a little surreal. I love the pre-Raphaelites with their staged settings yet hyper-real landscapes. I like Renaissance art, and Flemish art. I adore Vermeer, Bronzino, Holbein. I couldn’t name all my favourite artists. I’d never stop! I tend to reference art history a lot in my paintings. Having said this, I do keep an eye on trend and love to get inspiration from the contemporary art scene – anything from High Fashion to a trend in book covers, to TV ads can trigger my imagination.
What do you miss about Malta?
My family, and sometimes pastizzi.
Do artists have to necessarily exile themselves from Malta?
No not at all – I could do what I am doing in Malta. I make all my connections online. I have currently an exhibition of my digital works planned for a gallery in California, and there’s one at the moment in Queensland, Australia. I conducted all of the dealings for these online. Same goes for my shop, I sell and post out the items – all I need is the post office, and my computer and internet and my graphics tablet and Photoshop, and I’m good to go. I could technically do this from an island in the middle of nowhere provided I had all these things. My choice to live away from Malta was simply based on my desire to live somewhere less crowded, with more countryside. I now have a forest on my doorstep so it’s good.
Tell me a story about one of your paintings.
Some of my paintings are accompanied by an actual story – but these are not in the majority. I usually restrain myself to a snippet or couple of phrases of description, to push the viewer into my intended direction yet let them make it out by themselves. One of my favourite creations is ‘the constant gardener’, a digital collage. My tag-line, or story for it, was ‘He loved her, even when it hurt.’ I think it is self-explanatory enough. I allow the painting to deliver the mood.
What should we have really asked you?
What advice do you have for aspiring young artists? The best thing to do if you are going to do it solo (without attending an art school abroad) is to become involved in free online artist communities – like DeviantArt – and submit your art, and become involved in the art scene. This is a valuable learning step and lots of fun. Also invest in art books – not the ‘how to paint’ kind, but the ones with art master paintings, and observe them. There are online sites that are basically museums – like www.artrenewal.org is a goldmine of paintings from old masters. I think observing paintings is so important for passively learning the rules of composition and colour.
Also, stop making excuses and being your own worst enemy! I meet so many artists who go ‘but but but,’ and are ready to excuse why they aren’t drawing, or why they have let their skills rot. Many young, would-be artists I meet complain that they don’t have this or that opportunity – lack of funding for art school/lessons is often brought up – but I’m proof that you don’t need to go to art school to produce and sell artwork and work as an illustrator.