When asked why she painted so many self portraits, artist Frida Kahlo replied: “Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.” It’s not an uncommon charge for self portraits to be deemed too “personal” or even too “promotional.” Though both artists and audiences alike can never overlook the courage taken when exploring the inner-self in an attempt to manifest the ever-evading musings of the subconscious, into a tangible physicality.
Antony Micallef highly-anticipated solo show “SELF” stands to conviction in unveiling an intimate and honest reflection of his personal journey as an artist. The new body of works sees a noticeable shift in style and pallet from the earlier “Happy Deep Inside My Heart” 2011 collection.
“SELF” will convey all the deeper-embedded messages directly through the medium through it’s density and layers.
Antony spoke with Arts Editor, Luciana, a discussion in which he accounted for the importance of his relationship with the paint in this particular exhibition, maturing as an artist and how the value of a piece isn’t resolved by its price-tag.
It’s great to have you on After Nyne, Antony. For the past 20 years, you’ve painted your own self portrait, and yet your new body of work is said to recrudesce something of a more introspective nature. Can you tell us a little about how personal history has worked its way into your craft?
Well I just think as an artist you spend an awful lot of time on your own so you explore a lot of the things in your head or in your ‘’’direct ‘’ sphere or the world around you. People/Artists have been painting them selves since the beginning of time. Since photography came along and we no longer needed to ‘document’ each other or ourselves using paint it opened up a spectrum or contemplative arena where we could explore ourselves in a more introspective way.
I think that just happened with me. I’m with myself all day. I’m not offended by what I do or how I paint myself. So I guess in that sense I make my best model. The reason why I don’t do portraits of other people (and I get asked a lot) is simply because I can do what I like to myself and I don’t get offended by the brutality you can inflict with paint. People can be so vain. When I paint me it’s not about me. It’s about the paint or what I capture. I’m secondary. Most people don’t understand that when they want to be painted.
As an artist, why do you think the ways in which we represent ourselves are so changeable?
It’s just the nature of the medium and thinking process. The reason why it constantly changes is simply because being an artist isn’t static, it’s a process of exploring ides. I think good artists change all the time in some way or another. At least challenge them selves in the way they think or create. You’re always learning as an artist so it’s inevitable you’ll change in some way. We just mature artistically with experiences from creating as well as we learn from life as we grow older and learn from relationships.
Are all appearances trustworthy?
Of course not. I don’t need to tell you that. Appearances are just appearances. It’s what you do that build trusts.
Tell us a little about the practical process involved in creating this new series of work. What was your approach?
It’s quite hard to describe unless you can see it. It involves spending thousands of pounds on oil paint and a lot of courage. It was a very physical body of work to make and I had to be mentally prepared in order to take to the level that it reached. I had no idea where it was going so in that respect it was a bit of a gamble.
Even though I had an idea of what I wanted this work kind of gave up more secrets the more I worked at it. I guess that’s normal really as studio time and crating offers up more ideas and a new avenues for you to explore the more you put it. The backgrounds took weeks to prepare but the main painting of the heads were done in great burst of energy ranging from 3 to ten hours. I would be exhausted after one sitting as they were so demanding.
Your technique sees a use of heavy impasto. Is it fair to assume these layers are a reflection of the many layers deep embedded in an individuals “true self”?
There are various ways to look at this. I wouldn’t want to get too romantic about this but I would say it’s what is needed to create the emotional arena and the density of the atmosphere I’m trying to create. Every mark you make varies in strength and power depending on how hard you load the brush and how fast you pull it over the canvas. I’m trying to evoke something powerful with these paintings that command a room and has presence. I needed a lot of paint to do that.
Self-portraits are rarely commissioned works, but are often still sold and bought. Do you think putting a price on the self portrait alters the autonomy of a work and the sense of self-investigation pursued by an artist?
No not at all. Self portrait or not a self portrait for me it’s always about the way it’s painted. Money doesn’t alter it’s sincerity or even come into the dynamics. It just helps pays the rent. Without that you would have no studio to paint it in the first place.
Is there any particular piece within this collection that stands out to you as a favourite or has given you the most satisfaction personally and creatively?
Well all the pieces in the show do their ‘own’ thing to be honest. There are different conversations happening with the different paintings so it’s hard to compare. There are lots of parts of the paintings that for me are very dynamic and because I know the struggle I had to get through to reach them so they feel very satisfying. I’m really happy with this show as a whole as I never envisaged to make this work. Even though it was a real fight to make this work it felt like a natural step to walk into this new territory.
You’ve never been known to shy away from a large canvas. Are the dimensions of your work significant to how much you feel you need to express or are you just more comfortable working on a larger scale?
That’s a really good question. It does matter. To paint something life size obviously has a dynamic and an impact different from something smaller. If I’m painting with a big brush and a lot of paint I like to have the freedom to move around. I have more opportunities and the space to make accidents. It’s all relative of course…you don’t want the canvas to be too big and the wrong shape as that also cause problems with composition.
If this happens you could have the best piece of painting in the world but it could be suffocated because it’s stuck in the wrong place and it can’t be rescued with out being destroyed and changed into something else. This happens every now again and it’s a killer to deal with as you know the outcome for the piece you’ve just made is futile.
Do you see your work as relating to any current moment or direction in visual art?
I guess I’ve painted a lot of things in the past and dealt with different subject matter using more pop cultural elements to non narrative work that are purely based on the human body. I guess my fundamental has always been that really strong figurative element. In that sense my subject and materials I mostly use is very traditional. I’m not sure it’s too healthy to ponder about where you fit in as an artist. People will always argue with you. Artists are always romanticising being part of something and wanting to belong but at the end of the day who really cares? Artist should just make things and let other people talk about that.
What was/has been the single biggest influence for you since the conception of “Self”?
I guess just maturing…Stepping back from my work and giving myself the time to look at what I’ve really been doing. Letting life take it’s course and not trying o fight it whether it’s good or bad.
I’ve been wanting to make work like this for years but I guess I just wasn’t ready for it before or knew how to tackle it. Sometimes you just have to sit patiently and wait for things to come to you.
Antony Micallef SELF opens from 13th February – 19th at Lazarides Gallery.
11 Rathbone Place