An artist on a journey of reflection
With an explicit title, Knowledge East WALLACE-FALZONthe fourth personal exhibition of. Joseph Agius speaks to the artist about his vision of life and how it is reflected in his art.
JA: Insights is your fourth solo exhibition in almost four years. Your previous exhibitions dealt with existential pain in the face of personal upheaval and your expression could be seen as catharsis. Artistic creation was a way out of the psychological weakening. Has this changed?
WF: I have to admit it has grown and there is more thought. As the title of the exhibition, Knowledge, suggests, the exercise was a reflective process. I analyzed social situations, my family, and got into caricature to reflect current situations. It’s always a personal journey and I believe it will remain so. I am not a painter of pretty pictures; I strive to give meaning, a meaning that resonates differently with everyone because we are different from each other.
A single color can affect you emotionally; it could be a part of the image that elicits a reaction, or it could be the property of the entire composition that elicits personal relevance. I find it beautiful, there is 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 initial concept.
JA: You have a very positive outlook on life – talking to you reinforces the impression that you are rationalizing life and its flaws. Does this dichotomy define you as a sculptor by essentially becoming your fingerprint, in the sense that some of your work is playful while others are existentialist? Or is your art representative of the dualities of life?
WF: I believe that I am a positive person. The color palette 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 solve it. Conversely, I do not deny the existence of the negative and dark aspects of life, but we must move forward.
Art is a medium that helps me think and instructs me to come to some sort of conclusion. I suffer from chronic illnesses and there is nothing else to do but accept them. Sometimes when I’m depressed, knowing that I’m human and not immune to pain, I can rationalize my mood much more effectively by expressing myself artistically. Artistic expression gives me personal positive feedback that reduces discomfort. Even though I may feel excruciating pain, the positive feedback I receive through this lessens and transcends the pain itself. There is a paradox in all this, but it really makes sense to me.
My thoughts on the general public were more developed. There are reflections on society, on alienation, on international news. COVID-19 has locked everyone in home security. Probably the most-watched show in those two years has been the news, headlined by daily COVID stats. This further contributed to a collective depression. But overall, now that we see the light at the end of the tunnel, my art offered a positive perspective even in the worst of times.
JA: What sparks ignite your concepts?
WF: There’s family – family generates a lot of emotions; there’s the social aspect – even more so in times of COVID. I elaborate more on this subject because I have seen changes in society, friends and fellow artists. Their fears and emotions resonated with mine, which precipitated the need to express them artistically. In addition, there is the personal journey that I think about, especially in my Executive series, which takes up a fairly large part of the exhibition.
The title of this series can be seen as a play on words: sometimes we are too “serious” in our work. Almost a decade ago I left that lifestyle behind, but that doesn’t mean I don’t reflect on that particular time in my life. Sometimes I feel sorry for some current life situations of my old friends because they don’t have time for themselves and life is really short.
Sometimes when I’m down, knowing I’m human and not immune to pain, I can rationalize my mood much more effectively by expressing myself artistically.-Wallace Falzon
For me to recognize that an individual is very talented but too preoccupied with the mores of his work and his profession is a great loss; it’s not making the most of your life. Not having time to assess one’s thoughts and life beyond work is painful. In fact, I had to change course for medical reasons and it helped me a lot to reflect, and it changed me profoundly.
I started to see things that I couldn’t see before; life and work went by at a hundred miles an hour. Art has helped me reflect and appreciate the present moment. We don’t have the past, because it’s 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 organized by Roderick Camilleri, after Prosecutions October 2019. You recycle material to produce some of your art. As well as being a curator, Camilleri is also an artist who cares about environmental issues and introduces recycling into his own work. Has curatorship been made more effective as a result?
WF: I ask Roderick to critique my work. The advantage of him being an artist himself is that he can point out the flaws in my work. Something flawed in the artwork might stare me in the eye, but I’d be blindsided. When someone points out my shortcomings, the scales fall and my perspective changes.
The principle of recycling is not exploited by me and Roderick alone. It becomes a universal principle of society. We live in a waste society. Why should I throw away, for example, a cell phone? It is a machine, a tool that I have used for a few years and that must be eliminated. What a waste of materials and resources.
In fact, in one of the works, I used a mobile that I had accidentally dropped in the water. For the frame, I recycle the wood from the pallets that were intended to be thrown away. The exercise was much more laborious but more satisfying in the sense that I didn’t use more resources, because the material was recycled. People become more sensitive to environmental issues and appreciate the effort. This is not a money saving exercise as the labor intensity 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 and reduction of human volume to the most empirical humanoid forms amplify this intensity?
WF: I like this statement from Giacometti. Giacometti is an artist that I admire a lot, but I would point out that I am not influenced by him. In fact, I discovered it later, long after I had embarked on this stylization in my sculptural production. Giacometti was pessimistic in his approach – he lived through the trauma of two world wars, which presumably changed his outlook. It was a terrible time, and it’s honestly reflected in his art. It is an advantage that I did not go through these cataclysms. Therefore, my approach tends to be more positive.
Through styling, I can’t focus on the details but on the essence of the message. If, for example, I create a figure in which gender is ambiguous, then the viewer’s personal association with any gender could be made through that artwork. Otherwise, if the details had been intensified, it could have prevented part of the company from engaging in it. My paintings are different. I introduce substantial detail, using a light brush and using bright, intense colors.
Knowledge, curated by Roderick Camilleri and hosted by the Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo de la Salle, Republic Street, Valletta, runs until 23 March. Connect to the event’s Facebook page for opening hours.
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