‘Whatever you do, do it with a passion’ | Rupert Cefai

Painter and cartoonist Rupert Cefai (of ‘Bertoons’ fame) elaborates on the themes behind his ongoing exhibition Tiers of Truths, currently on display at Christine X Art Gallery in Tigne, Sliema – while also dispensing some trenchant advice for aspiring local artists.

Rupert Cefai:
Rupert Cefai: "Reality inspires us to create fiction and fiction alters our reading of reality."

The theme of 'Tiers of Truths' appears to be the blurry distinction between truth and fiction. And yet, you also claim that the exhibition was inspired by real events. Could you elaborate further on this? How would you say it comes about in the paintings themselves?

The idea behind Tiers of Truths is based on those particular moments in life when you feel caught in the middle of a scene that reminds you of a film you saw, a book you read or a song you heard. How many of the books you read, the films you saw or the songs you heard have influenced the way you interpret life? Real life inspires us to create what we call art and in return, the art we create, the stories, the books, the songs, the paintings etc., all shape our own interpretation of life.  Reality inspires us to create fiction and fiction alters our reading of reality.

As you stated, 'Tiers of Truths' is a collection of artworks inspired by real life events; everyday scenes I have witnessed and experienced. The subjects, the people and the backgrounds are all taken from everyday life in London, Valletta, Essen and elsewhere. These scenes, these moments in time, are also a reminder of someone else's creation, art that has influenced my own reading of life. Each and every painting represents one such moment, where fiction and reality overlap, creating a visual anecdote reflecting a multi-layered truth. Like a theatre, the canvas becomes a converging point. 

You have made the - some would perhaps say 'bold' - decision to make art your full-time pursuit. What are some of the main challenges of being a full-time artist?

Basically the same challenges anyone who is self-employed has to face. Being good at what you do is not enough, you need to learn to manage yourself, promote yourself, administer your work, deal with clients and so on. Most artists, even though they are good at what they do, fail at all the rest.

You are also a very active political cartoonist. How do you mark the distinction between the 'fine' art and the cartoon art?

Both processes are very similar and in a way, both results are similar too. In both cases I am looking for an image with some sort of message, a punchline. Yet, there are two conscious distinctions, one is the choice of media, the other is the signature, I sign my paintings rucefai and my cartoons Bertu!

'Alice' by Rupert Cefai

'Alice' by Rupert Cefai

How do you 'organise' yourself creatively when considering either one of them?

Whatever I do, I need an incubation period. I need time to think about the idea and time to absorb the information I gather about the subject. Working on a cartoon or a 3mx3m painting, I tend to spend more time researching the subject than actually painting or drawing it. The more I process information, the more I feel I own it. Then somehow all tends to fall into place and the rest is just work.

Having exhibited abroad, what is your view of the Maltese visual arts scene? Is there anything you would change about it?

There's a lot of talent on this rock but talent is not enough. Talent is the equivalent of a diamond buried in rock and in a way we're still there. We are too isolated, very few professional artists, no (or hardly any) galleries that represent artists, we lack resources and spaces to exhibit, not enough direct investment from the government and private business in the sector, and the worst fact is that our audiences are still very limited. I would do exactly this: build artistic bridges between Malta, mainland Europe and North Africa, invest in educating audiences and encourage business and the government to invest in art. This might support both galleries and artists.

What would be your advice to any aspiring artist?

Work hard. Learn the rules then have fun breaking them. Travel. A lot. Find mentors then challenge them. Be ready for a lot of disappointments and let downs. But whatever you do, just do it with a passion.

Tiers of Truths will remain on display until April 24. For more information contact: [email protected], 21 316708, 99 844653