Narratives for Postmodern Love: Exploring the way we love

LAURA CALLEJA speaks to artist Gabriel Buttigieg ahead of his latest exhibition Narratives for Postmodern Love which is a visual essay that portrays the way we love, and also, perceive love, in the 21st century. The exhibition opens on 7 December at Splendid in Valletta

Art work by Gabriel Buttigieg
Art work by Gabriel Buttigieg

What was the inspiration behind Narratives for Postmodern Love?

Among the most prominent was the human condition. There is also the fact that historically, the Splendid was a brothel. It was the space for a wide spectrum of human experiences and emotions. This spurred me to examine the paradoxes within human nature and address them directly in this exhibition. Because of the clinical, mechanised, digitalised world we inhabit, we have cast aside our hearts and our souls are sick because of this. I wanted a stark contrast with the clinical experiences we are offered in so many exhibitions of contemporary art these days. Our fundamental emotions as humans, be they love, lust, fear, nostalgia, temptation, remorse, are more relevant than ever. In fact, it was the curator of this exhibition, Lisa Gwen, who came up with the name: ‘Narratives for Postmodern Love’.

What does the exhibition hope to achieve?

Because of their nature, my paintings are often prone to misinterpretation and hence controversy and negative responses. It’s indisputable that the subject of my art is sex, yet the point of departure for me is very often not sexual. My art usually arises from emotions and emotional reactions to universal situations and themes. For instance, in the case of this exhibition, themes such as exploitation, deceit, impersonal hook-ups, detachment, domination… Having a female curator with staunch feminist principles freed me to express myself in the rawest, most direct manner. I felt comfortable with Lisa Gwen curating my exhibition. It liberated me to be more versatile and more daring, for example, hazarding a sarcastic or playful comment here, a confession of despondency there, venturing into more abstract territory at times or into earthier detail at others. I am happy all these elements have finally been able to emerge.

During the process of creating this exhibition, did anything surprise you?

I was astonished at how confident I was in experimenting. I felt so unprecedentedly at ease taking risks, indulging in the sheer pleasure of playing with lines, with new aesthetic forms, with proportion. I kept the space we had chosen in mind all the time and held several onsite meetings with the curator. So, the project was tailored specifically to the Splendid. It has always been special to me. This is not the first exhibition I’m holding there, and I’m always excited to see how my works fit in with the space.

What should the audience expect from this exhibition?

An electric shock. My inspirations have always been artists who distil their soul into their art, who give you that jolt. Whether they were musicians or theatre makers or practise some other artform, theirs is the kind of art I consider worthwhile. Similarly, I’ve never been one to bluff, pose or mince my words. And that’s the kind of art I try to make and the kind of experience I want to share.

Do you have a favourite piece, or rather, a piece that stands out to you from the exhibition?

No. I’m happy with each and every one of my works. Painting for this exhibition was a radically cathartic experience, so every painting that came out of the process was necessary, inevitable and right. I was far less concerned this time about what people’s reactions would be, what I should say, how I might have to defend myself, and so on. Painting them was an inner journey and I’m finally ready to look outward and start a conversation.