Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I recommend the reading of the following article by Jonathan Jones:


Monday, October 3, 2011

Painting and repainting

I have always had mixed feelings about the art of visual artists Iakovos "Jake" Chapman (born 1966) and Konstantinos "Dinos" Chapman (born 1962), often known as the Chapman Brothers.
I also have a low consideration of those artists who purposely try to be vulgar and offensive in order to gain recognition. Though some works of art may be considered sublime because of the feelings of awe or anguish these are capable of transpiring, few are those artists who are able to strike the right balance and simultaneously retain the dignity and moral stance required along the feeling of repulsiveness which their work tries to convey. Being excessively different from the norm is not equivalent to being outstandingly original or creative. A case in point is the work by Jake and Dinos Chapman. For those familiar with their works, their subject matter tends to concentrate on whatever is generally deemed to be appalling and offensive.The brothers have also gained international recognition for their taste in altering works of other artists.
In May 2008 the White Cube gallery exhibited 13 apparently authenticated watercolours painted by Adolf Hitler, to which the brothers had added hippie motifs. Jake Chapman described most of the dictator's works as 'awful landscapes' which they had 'prettified'.
In 2010, the artists took an Old Master crucifixion scene and embellished it, apparently with the intention of asking the viewer to consider which works might be by Jake, by Dinos or the Flemish master. Their “Brueghel” also appears to have been, like most of the Chapmans’ works, a collaboration. By coincidence, a version of The Crucifixion accepted as by Pieter Brueghel the Younger sold at an auction in Zurich a few months earlier. This was catalogued as a joint work by Brueghel and Joos de Momper, the Flemish landscape artist who painted the backdrop.
And then there is the price. The Zurich auction picture sold for £673,000. The Chapmans’ “Brueghel” was priced, allowing for a 10 per cent reduction to a good client, at the same level as an authentic Brueghel of the same subject. Thus, a minor Old Master painting accrued in value just because it has been doctored by the Chapmans. The White Cube would like us to believe that the Chapmans are on the same pedestal as Brueghel.
Now let’s consider the moral issue behind this story. It often occurs that art practitioners revisit their past works and decide to intervene with some alterations (pentimenti). In some extreme cases, such alterations may be devastating, to such an extent that a whole body of work could disappear. The denial or erasure of one's past efforts could be explained as a portrayal of failure in creating something significant back in time. There could be other motives behind such drastic actions. It often occurs that unsuccessful art practitioners or beginners come to a point when they desperately need to repaint unsold works in order to make a living. For instance, Francis Bacon once confessed that due to financial problems he repainted most of the works that characterised the initial phase of his artistic career. In fact we do not have a significant documentation related to the period of his formation.
Intervening on one’s own work is one thing but messing with the works of others is logically and morally unacceptable, as long as there is consent from the original creators. Duchamp notoriously drew a pair of moustache on the image of the Mona Lisa . At least, and thanks God, the image was a reproduction.
But painting over an original work of an old Master, no matter whether it is a Brueghel or a minor artist, is deplorable. In my opinion, such an offensive action is a shameful attack on Art and the values of dignity and respect required for appreciating it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A vicious cycle

Domino Effect (2011) - Mixed media on canvas, 120 x 150 cm (zoom in to see enlarged image).

Images and fragments of war reportage are extracted from newspapers and magazines and re-utilised in the creation of this collage/painting. Some texts and images are placed in evidence, whereas others are concealed or blurred purposefully with painting and overpainting in red. Historical facts...subjective truths...opinions constitute this horror vacui revolving around the central painted figures, inspired by the iconic group of statues - The Rape of the Sabine Women. Reports and pictures are presented tautologically - each of which is flattened with a homogeneous colour and thus given equal importance. During times of war, we often question whether the information presented by the media is reliable enough in portraying a true picture of war realities. As regards war documentation we tend to question images and chronicles from different perspectives. We also question whether actions, opinions and interpretations justify other actions in the name of warfare.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Automatic painting

The Citadel (2011)

The influence of expressionist and abstract expressionist art is evident in my personal interpretation of the various genres. I often begin my paintings with random and impulsive marks which I coax into recognisable forms so that figurative elements materialise as a kind of ‘found’ art. A tool in the loosening of gesture and, thus, of my link to nature, is the Surrealists’ 'automatic' painting technique. With fifteen years of dedicated practice, I have become firmly convinced that significant images proceed from an inner intensity. Gestures like pouring or splattering of paint enable me to convey notions of flux and impermanence inherent in physical phenomena. My compositions moved gradually from a commitment to the rational structures of nature towards the freer brushwork and spatial organisation through colour. I often depart from a sketchy representation of the surrounding environment; its visual data are just a pretext for me to start a painting. These simply ignite a whole process that leads to something which is relatively and intrinsically diverse from its original source. I consider my renderings of pure and unconditional expression as my best examples of painting.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Site-specific work

Containing blue (2011)

The ‘specific art object’ for the most part in the historical context undisputedly occupied a traditional gallery space or museum. The concern with materials or non-materials – particularly relatively formless materials – has the effect of inducing reflection upon the ‘containers’ which confer form upon them. Principal among these is the gallery space - the official arena in which normally all exhibits displayed are attributed with the status of an art object. But once the gallery itself became highlighted as constitutive of the work, rather than a neutral factor undeserving of attention, the possibility arose of making art which questions further the conventions of spectatorship. The possibility of installing or showing the work outside the gallery generated discussions upon the conditions of encounters with artworks. This was the origin of Land Art and site-specific sculpture.

In site-specificity, the work of art appears to merge physically into its setting and appears embedded in the place where observers encounter it. Site-specific artworks are impermanent, installed in particular locations for a limited duration. These become the emblem of transience and the ephemerality of all phenomena. Because of their impermanence, moreover, site-specific artworks are frequently ‘preserved’ only in photographs. This fact is important, for it suggests the allegorical potential of photography. The appreciation of the transience of things becomes itself a concern about the rescue of ephemeral constituents for eternity. As an allegorical art, then, photography is capable of representing our desire to fix the transitory in a stable and stabilising image.

Most of my site-specific installations are created and documented on seashores. These are ideal places which, when devoid of human activity, can reward the solitary visitors with a sublime visual experience that merges the earthly with the divine. The sea and the sky, with the horizon acting as their intermediate, appear to question the Earth’s substance. My actions are simple interventions with the use of simple objects. While acknowledging that the ‘absolute beauty’ is already manifested in the surroundings, the installations are meant to complement the ‘cosmic’ harmony that materialises in the unified oneness of the sky and the sea. Apart from the utilisation of natural objects found on site, common commercial artefacts are often included in my visual language – open containers, the purpose of which is to contain liquids or objects within their limited capacity. These recipients are placed facing the sea, which becomes a suggestive backdrop representing the infinite and the divine constituents of Nature. Due to their impermanence, the works are documented through photography. In most cases, the editing of photographic works is kept to the minimum in order to avoid extra embellishments. While showing an affinity with Land Art and Conceptual Art, the nature of my work remains predominantly symbolic… and allegorical, in the same way as its documentation.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Big Red (2000) - Private collection - France.

One of the works completed during my studies in Perugia. This formed part of a series of paintings on canvas and engravings done during the period 1998-2001.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The interdisciplinary artist

There was a time when the traditional artist was either a painter or a sculptor, with some exceptions of course, such as the case of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Each established artist had his own ‘bottega’, where together with his assistants, he carried out his commissioned works. The art crisis brought about by the Counter-Reformation, which developed during the post-Renaissance period, obliged artists to find new patrons apart from the generous noble representatives of the Catholic Church. It was then when the attention shifted towards a new and prosperous market - that offered by the increasingly wealthy bourgeois class. This brought about the idea of specialisation in the various genres, including still-life paintings and the illustration of mundane scenes. Later on, during the Industrial Revolution, the art materials and paints became more accessible on the market, hence facilitating the individual productivity of the artists.

It was however the invention of photography in the 1880s which brought about a significant and dramatic change in the art domain. The capacity of photography to achieve the lifelike realism sought by painters was a key factor in shifting the interest from figurative art towards abstraction. And with photography challenging the realism achievable in fine art, artists struck back with the photographic style of the Surrealists, particularly Salvador Dali. Later, Andy Warhol would use colour photography as the basis of his silkscreen work. The ever-increasing relevance of the technological factor in everyday life was also decisive in the affirmation of computer- and video-generated artworks. Artists started to explore the relationship between images, language, actions and sounds, and stage bodies in their videos.

Another important breakthrough was the advent of the ‘ready-made’, the term coined in 1915 to describe objects appropriated by the artist acquiring the status of artworks. With his appropriation of everyday objects as ‘ready-mades’, Marcel Duchamp was revolutionary in introducing the notion of choice as an artistic gesture in itself, pre-dating conceptual art by half a century. Later, conceptual artists like Sol Lewitt would leave their designs and projects vague so that the team of assistants who carried a work out –sometimes taking weeks – were allowed to participate in the creative process.

In brief I tried to explain how throughout the twentieth century, the art domain changed drastically in terms of development of ideas and practices. Nowadays, we are exposed to an open battlefield or arena in which what we may consider breathtakingly beautiful could be tested by what we may define as simply bizarre. Artists were and still remain capable of exciting, but they are also equipped with the tools to challenge and sometimes, offend. So does it really matter whether an artist is either a painter or a sculptor? Not really. The contemporary artist is the one who scrutinises and digests whatever develops around him and presents his perceptions and beliefs with his own visual language/s. The technique and the medium used are important in the realisation of any work of art, but these shall always remain subordinate to the idea or the concept behind the whole process. Then come of course other factors into play such as the emotions imparted and the overall structure of the work concerned. The contemporary artist can work on his own or otherwise may opt to work in collaboration with other colleagues. Some even delegate the actual implementation of their project/s or ideas to craftsmen or assistants. An artist is either an idealist or a pragmatist. He either aspires for a utopian state of being, or else questions the various existential, political and social ideologies. The artist, whether he likes it or not, lives in a continual correlation to the public, to society, and he cannot withdraw from its laws and its reforms. Anyone maintaining a sophisticated stance above or outside of things is also taking sides, for such indifference and aloofness is automatically a support of the class currently in power. Moreover, a great number of artists quite consciously support the bourgeois system, since it is within that system that their work sells.

And finally, the contemporary artist is required to be multi-lingual. Though his work revolves around the same common denominator - his beliefs and personal research - the media and languages he exercises to express himself or make a statement need to be multiple. He may not necessarily be a painter or a sculptor, considering that the painter/ illustrator uses exclusively paint to express himself whereas the sculptor is concerned with bringing forms to life exclusively in 3D. In my opinion interdisciplinarity is the operative word that defines the contemporary visual artist. The application of new media has the function of stimulating interest and increasing motivation on the part of the artist in his quest of new forms of expression. The creative person considers art as a never-ending journey of self-discovery that needs to be pursued even if it takes him down to less familiar paths. Paradoxically, he shall persist with his endeavours despite the fact that no ultimate truth shall ever be unlocked.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What is art?

Some argue that figurative art has become less fashionable since the invention of photography in the 1880s. Artists like the Impressionists, followed by the Expressionists, started to interpret in a personal way the various genres and avoid representing faithfully objective reality. Freedom of expression and spontaneity of execution were injected in the new and challenging art practices, leading eventually to pure abstraction. Nowadays other media like photography itself, installation and video are being used by artists to express their emotions and their ideas or otherwise, to make a statement. The classical canons of beauty and harmony and the mastery of techniques are being constantly undermined or challenged by unconventional and deviant aesthetical forms. Today, it has become familiar practice among internationally recognised artist to challenge, shock or provoke the art system – sometimes with the intent of making a name for themselves. Some appear more interested in assimilating and amalgamating different art languages , in questioning notions and practices without necessarily giving answers. Some even dare go a step further by confronting the opposites in their work, for instance, the sacred and the fetish, the mystical and the profane, the sublime and the ordinary, the profound and the kitsch. Such practice is most commonly adopted by conceptual artists.
My question is, what are the priorities of an emerging artist in such a complex system consisting of a multitude of artistic languages? While acknowledging that the possibilities are numerous, one needs first and foremost to determine which art practices are personally most at heart. An artist needs to take advantage from all the possibilities a medium can offer; regular practice allows for similar traits to develop from one piece to another. Continuous practice generates confidence and the build-up of an own and personal artistic language, consisting of its own and specific rules and dynamics. Regular production is equivalent to a disciplined approach that guarantees a more mature and successful product. Perseverance and learning through trials and errors help in the moulding of a more coherent art language. Phases of involution that occur throughout an artist’s development indicate that one needs to stop and reflect upon the possibities of assimilating new practices that would improve his or her forms of expression. Moreover, significant events in our life contribute to the definition and manifestation of one’s own artistic language. Creative output may go along financial success, but the two are not necessarily related. Financial success requires a certain extent of luck, and is dependent upon the assistance of the mass media, the contacts with the various gallery owners, art museums and institutions, art critics and art collectors. Take Malta for instance. The artists' reputation, their financial success and their vocational survival are basically dependent on the promotion made by the local media and the exposure provided by a handful of art galleries. However, it is sad to note that noone among the Maltese visual artists has yet gained international status. This shows that there is still work to be done in such a way that local contemporary art emerges on the larger scenario and meets international recognition.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Link to the exhibition at the Mayor's Palace in Palermo


(informazione.it - comunicati stampa)

Venerdì 14 Gennaio alle ore 17,30 la Galleria Villa Niscemi, piazza dei Quartieri,2 a Palermo, che oltre ad essere la prestigiosa sede di rappresentanza del Sindaco, costituisce un insieme di grande interesse sia per la splendida conservazione degli interni, sia per la vastità e bellezza del parco che, confinante com'è con quello della Favorita, ne costituisce la naturale prosecuzione, formando con esso un unicum paesaggistico, verrà presentata a cura del Prof. Giovanni Battista Maria Falcone la personale dell'Artista Christopher Saliba intitolata “Lux Aeterna – Sul viaggio della Luce” .
Artista maltese che ha già evidenziato grandi doti artistiche con esposizioni in Italia e all’estero è alla sua prima esposizione in Sicilia.
La mostra promossa dall'Associazione Artistico Culturale Maestri D'Arte, curata dal Prof. Giovanni Battista Maria Falcone è Patrocinata dal Comune di Palermo.
La rassegna, ripercorre attraverso venti opere selezionate il percorso creativo dell'ultima produzione
frutto della continua ricerca dell'Artista.
Le opere di Christopher Saliba sono un viaggio immaginifico nella luce. Luce che percorre spazi infiniti e che ci racconta di molteplici universi illuminati e poi oscurati dopo il suo passaggio.
Se osserviamo le sue opere, soprattutto le prime, la tessitura è intrisa di innumerevoli paesaggi che risuonano di forme e colori mediterranei. Case, paesaggi, pietra arenaria: forse alludono alla forza creatrice di una cultura spesso dimenticata e che ha perso quella valenza storica ed umana che ha generato le grandi civiltà del passato. Poi queste forme si dissolvono e divengono, in maniera più consistente nelle sue opere di genere astratto, informi, generando, quasi come vortici e tempeste, un flusso magnetico che procede verso l'universo, proprio come una Lux Aeterna.
L'artista si serve di luce molto fredda, quasi tendente all'azzurro, trasformando i colori come in materia metallica, in magma rigeneratore, che tutto brucia e travolge. E' una luce che produce un grande coinvolgimento emotivo, innescando un vortice di emozioni.
Dal pittorico figurativo alla perdita della forma, Christopher Saliba mostra di dominare gli spazi più impervi di un mondo, quello della pittura espressionista astratta, un genere alla cui base stanno sia la spontaneità del rapporto dell'artista con l'opera che il ruolo privilegiato dell'inconscio nel processo creativo.
Mostra di grande interesse culturale se ne consiglia la visione a professionisti del settore, collezionisti e semplici osservatori.
In Mostra fino al 20 Gennaio 2011

Per informazioni contattare:
Associazione Artistico Culturale Maestri D'Arte
Tel. +39 349 3744896
e mail: maestridarte@gmail.com