Something like a prayer | Gabriel Buttigieg

Prolific young painter Gabriel Buttigieg speaks about ‘Saudade’ – his current exhibition of works that marks a distinct shift away from his ‘animalistic’ previous output into something more contemplative

Gabriel Buttigieg
Gabriel Buttigieg

You are a painter who exhibits with great frequency. What compels you to keep creating new work, and how would you say Saudade fits into the overall template of your work so far?

I am always looking for different methods of expressing myself while remaining loyal to painting. Painting for me is a ritual, which fascinates me to this day. From the moment I stretch a canvas, all up until I feel that a painting is complete. That said, when starting a new project, all previous art works are turned face against the wall. The process is an informal one, where I dedicate some time looming over what currently inspires me and organising the thoughts that occupy my mind.

Saudade bears a different aesthetic to my previous work, because I am constantly inspired by new discoveries; be they contemporary artists or classical mythological themes. I find repetition to be mundane and counterproductive to the notion of being an artist. As an art practitioner I think it is important to be disciplined and work. I always want to challenge myself and find new ways to present the themes I have in mind.
Saudade is a bit of a personal journey.

While my previous work was more explosive, animalistic, this time I wanted something more of a prayer, reflecting my current state of mind. One can in fact sense the ‘observer-like’ feel in my works. When I am not working I will be collecting ideas, thoughts, which will then result into a new series of work.

‘Night Dance’ by Gabriel Buttigieg (160x200cm, acrylic on canvas, 2018)
‘Night Dance’ by Gabriel Buttigieg (160x200cm, acrylic on canvas, 2018)

Your previous work appears to have been focused on cruder manifestations of the body, whereas Saudade suggests something far more wistful and, perhaps, less tangible. Do you recognise this distinction, and is there something more specific you want to achieve with Saudade?

With Saudade I felt that I wanted to explore more the element of narration in my paintings. Being drawn to artists like Alex Katz, Eric Fischl, Andrew Salgado, Cecily Brown, I felt attracted to the boldness of flat colours and the strength a line could possess.

The aesthetic of Saudade is fresh and bright, but its optimistic depiction clashes with the story taking place within the painting. Similar to how we perceive the lives of others, Saudade masks a less obvious reality which might leave one with a sense of discomfort or disturbance almost. It is not only about pretty colours.

I wanted my work to be relatable and universal while remaining honest and true.  

‘Woman with Flowers’ by Gabriel Buttigieg (105x115cm, acrylic on canvas 2018)
‘Woman with Flowers’ by Gabriel Buttigieg (105x115cm, acrylic on canvas 2018)

In part due to Valletta taking on the mantle of Capital of Culture (and all that that implies) over the past year or so, what is your take on how the visual arts aspect of it has developed in particular?

From a visual arts perspective it is positive to see a number of exhibition spaces being opened such as Valletta Contemporary, MUZA and MICAS, and I hope this momentum will be sustained also after 2018. It is unfortunate that such title has been at times associated to individuals’ political agenda but I admit that there have been a few projects I’ve enjoyed throughout the year. Overall I feel that the Capital of Culture project should have focused more on education and inclusion, rather than giving importance to the privileged few.

‘Woman with a Snake’ by Gabriel Buttigieg (110x150cm, acrylic on canvas, 2018)
‘Woman with a Snake’ by Gabriel Buttigieg (110x150cm, acrylic on canvas, 2018)

How would you position yourself within this scene? Is there a prevailing mood that you identify, and do you see yourself working with or against it?

For the time being I have always opted to work on my own. I am not a fan of bureaucratic procedures especially when it comes to funding or working within predetermined structures. I like to keep my liberty and just do whatever feels right at that particular given moment. It is the island mentality which bothers me and feeling of self-importance which I, as Gabriel Buttigieg, do not see myself forming part of.

That said, throughout my career I have come across a number of people who genuinely appreciate the subject and have a lot to give in terms of mentoring and talent. This for me is very important and motivating.

Saudade will remain on display at Palazzo De La Salle, Valletta until November 29.

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