It's good to be strange | Jennings Falzon

Fresh off the set of Sky One’s Sinbad, young painter and sculptor Jennings Falzon speaks to MaltaToday about his strange visions, which include a striking take on religious iconography.

25-year-old Jennings Falzon is a full-time painter and sculptor who has just finished working with the art department of the high profile television series Sinbad.
25-year-old Jennings Falzon is a full-time painter and sculptor who has just finished working with the art department of the high profile television series Sinbad.

"I don't see why the crucifixion should be depicted in a 'nice' way. I mean okay, for the children, and because people don't want to be too unsettled by it but I think the image doesn't come out so strongly if you dampen it," painter and sculptor Jennings Falzon tells me in his makeshift Naxxar studio - a spacious garage, really, which sometimes even doubles up as an exhibition space.

The topic of discussion is a mixed-media sculpture that the recent MCAST fine arts degree graduate had presented at a Good Friday exhibition in 2010.

'Kollox Mitmum' depicts the Christ in a traditional pose but through very unconventional means. Instead of being suspended on the cross, the figure is suspended in mid-air. But this is the least surprising innovation to the traditional image.

Instead of hands and feet, wire worms out of the Christ's body in painful twists, and instead of a crown of thorns, barbed wire is also angled on the figure's forehead. Cloth is - discreetly, traditionally - placed over the figure, and it appears to billow along with the barbed wire.

"At first I didn't even want to clothe him - was it ever written that he was clothed when he was crucified?"

Jennings comments about the 'touchiness' Maltese people have towards sacred art. His artistic programme, however, has nothing to do with shocking. Rather, the young artist is determined to shape traditional media in non-traditional ways.

Jennings honed his craft for a total of 12 years at MCAST and at the Art School which preceded it. He studied design for nine years until he obtained his Higher National Diploma in Fine Arts, and subsequently an MCAST Bachelor's Degree in the same field. But, predictably enough, art has been his passion for a long time.

"All of my family would draw; my brother eventually became a tattooist, and my uncle does Caravaggio replicas. But I have very clear memories of my mum taking me to work, and I remember her doodling every now and then - her little drawings caught my eye..."

While believing in the necessity of undergoing traditional training - he flags up the Renaissance masters and Rodin as perennial influences - walking into his studio, you immediately get a sense of the strange byways of his imagination.

Looking at his work, you will find strange creatures - some monstrous, some seemingly more benevolent but equally strange - that wouldn't be out of place in a mind-bending horror or fantasy film.

And as I chat with the soft-spoken, 25-year-old artist, I manage to suss out his more contemporary influences. Amongst the wonderfully quirky Nicola Hicks and Patrick Doherty - whose constructions are worth a Google - as expected, he finds a kindred spirit in the creative minds behind some his favourite films - among them the imaginative landscapes of Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro, though his absolute favourites remain Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He points me to a sculpture made of twigs, claiming it to be inspired by the Ents - the irate tree creatures from the fantasy trilogy. But his fantastical constructions do not always spring from obvious sources. "Even a comedy film might have something in it that inspires me - a tree angled in a particular way, for example, which would get my imagination going, and I would take out my sketchbook there and then. It's often happened that I get so carried away by my sketches that I forget the film entirely!"

But film seems to have held Jennings in good stead. He was called in to help out with the art department of Agora - filmed in Malta in 2008 - but had to decline due to coursework. But opportunity knocked again last year, after a course-mate recommended him to the art director of the upcoming Sky One series Sinbad.

"I was woken up at 7am when someone called me to ask whether I'd be up for making two giant fish sculptures for the show! I was still working on my dissertation at the time so I ended up making them after school..."

Following that initial commission, Jennings was taken on board full-time, working to a hectic schedule on props, landscape features and other oddities for the Arabian Nights-inspired adventure-drama. You'd be able to see his work on assorted calligraphy, maps, portraits, coins and even a strange variation on bowling.

"At one point we were asked to design this 'game' where a ball is pinned to a large ball on a string, and you hit the 'bowling pins' by throwing it. We were encouraged to tinker already existing stuff and put our own spin on things. It was great feeling, to help design an entire world. The director was very easy to work with, and he really appreciated my contribution - when he was happy with something, he made sure you knew.

"And I'm proud to say that some of the Maltese people working in the art and construction departments were even more experienced than some of the foreigners..."

Jennings Falzon will be exhibiting some of his works at the Silver Palette Exhibition, Palazzo De La Salle, Valletta from 9 to 30 March. For updates on the artist's work, log on to: