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Channelling the Renaissance in the now | Christopher Saliba

Teodor Reljic speaks to artist Christopher Saliba about his participation in the collective exhibition ‘Memorie del passato e del presente’ organised by the Egg Mayo association in Perugia and for which the participating artists – Saliba included – were selected by the renowned Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
14 June 2017, 7:30am
Saliba (right) was one of the artists hand-picked by renowned Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi (left): “It was my pleasure to participate in this international event and I am appreciative of Sgarbi’s analysis of my works, his positive comments and recommendations”
Saliba (right) was one of the artists hand-picked by renowned Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi (left): “It was my pleasure to participate in this international event and I am appreciative of Sgarbi’s analysis of my works, his positive comments and recommendations”
What were some of the most important lessons you’ve learned ever since you first started engaging with visual art in a pro-active way?

Artistic growth is about having a thorough belief in the validity of one’s own thoughts and practices. It is about being consistent and persevering, especially when working against odds. Since I started my studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Perugia, I learned how to push my intrinsic convictions to the forefront, and create my own modus operandi. Needless to say, this  took me time and the journey of self-discovery is still ongoing. I learned that a specific  artistic language requires the establishment of a set of rules which in turn  provide the common denominator to diverse creative outputs, no matter which medium is employed. Last but not least, I have learned that ‘art with a capital A’ may not necessarily please everyone, and that what matters most to an artist is being true to oneself.

How has your art style developed over the years, and what were some of the most important influencing factors of this development?

I consider myself first and foremost a creator of images. ‘Art mirrors life’ is the belief that underpins different practices in my oeuvre, that includes painting, etching, installation, photography, sculpture and video. Upon my return to Malta from Perugia in 2001, I started to  focus mainly on expressing symbolically the spatial and psychological limits affecting islanders. Surpassing boundaries and looking beyond the horizon are themes that recurred regularly in my documented outdoor interventions. During the last six years  or so, I started to work on a project that is still in progress, with the medium being experimental photography.

This project, which I named ‘Ageing Mirrors’,  developed in parallel with my figurative and abstract works produced daily in my studio. Working in series, I started to create unorthodox visual narratives that address a number of fundamental existential issues, namely fear, hope, conflicts, violence, ageing, self-preservation and death. 

Ageing Mirrors has been evolving since its conception and it is updated regularly online. Classical ideals are a major source of inspiration as regards  the formal nature of this particular  work whereas minimalist, conceptual  and contemporary artists like Chuck Close, Gilbert and George and Richard Prince influenced me in one way or another.

How would you describe the ‘Memorie…’ exhibition, and your contribution to it? How did it feel to be selected by Vittorio Sgarbi, and what kind of impact do you hope this will have on your career?

For the ‘Memorie...’ exhibition I presented four manipulated photographic works, the highlight of which is a triptych entitled ‘The Passage of Time’. The work revolved around the existential theme of time and the physical changes it brings about. Three self-portraits were placed next to each other with the visual narrative suggesting the suspension of time. My idea was  to highlight some formal aspects common to Renaissance painting. In fact, this work was conceived as a tribute to the artist Pietro Vannucci (il Perugino)  who used to live and work in the region of Umbria. 

Passage of Time (2017) by Christopher Saliba: “My idea was  to highlight some formal aspects common to Renaissance painting”
Passage of Time (2017) by Christopher Saliba: “My idea was to highlight some formal aspects common to Renaissance painting”
Prior to and during the exhibition the participating artists were able to discuss and relate with art critic Vittorio Sgarbi. The theme presented was quite challenging, as it put into question the memories underlying the heritage of past and modern art vis-à-vis the validity of contemporary art practices which are currently unfolding. As Sgarbi justly pointed out, only time can affirm or  secure a coveted place for a contemporary artist in the prestigious history of art, irrespective of the fact that such an artist is either secluded in his studio or otherwise entertaining his audiences  in familiar art circles. It was my pleasure to participate in this international event and I am appreciative of Vittorio Sgarbi’s analysis of my works, his positive comments and recommendations.  I think that such participations are beneficial to one’s own personal growth as an artist. Needless to say, these lead to the establishment of networks of communication with international artists, critics, curators, entrepreneurs in the field of visual arts and gallerists.

What do you make of the local visual arts scene, particularly when compared to your experience of studying and exhibiting in Italy?

From what I learnt during my studies abroad, informal learning is very important in the formative years of an artist. I’m of the opinion that art courses offered at the University of Malta have improved and become more stimulating in recent years. Having said this, I feel that these still remain prevalently academic and relatively less student-centred. Apart from that, prospective artists are nowadays able to access easily written and visual contents related to the arts on the internet and familiarise better with the contemporary artistic scenario. This is a huge asset which I could not help myself to 20 years ago, when I was committed to my art studies abroad. Nevertheless, a huge drawback for Maltese students is the limited direct exposure to exhibitions held regularly on mainland Europe, which are a must to better appreciate the quality of different forms of art. As regards the local contemporary art scene, it has developed considerably throughout recent years. Local art institutions have shown an increasing  willingness to host experimental works and less conventional practices. What I feel needs to improve is a better distribution of resources and funds to pro-active artists who are increasing in number, but who are finding it hard to make ends meet.

What’s next for you?

Though it has been a few years since I held my last solo exhibition, I have never stopped practising and was also committed to other projects and collaborations, the latest being a collective international event in Bahrain. My next step is to open a gallery of my own which will cater for collaborative events with national and international artists. The gallery situated in Gozo will be open soon to the general public. I am also currently working on a collection of paintings which I hopefully intend to exhibit next year.

For more information on Christopher Saliba’s work, log on to: www.christophersaliba.comMemorie del passato e del presente will remain on display until mid-June.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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