The stones tell stories | Zoe Chomarat

Being a French national fully integrated into Maltese life, the painter Zoe Chomarat talks about her passion for the island – and her enduring love of dogs – while also weighing in on the state of contemporary art, ahead of her upcoming exhibition at St John’s Cavalier, Valletta.

Tryptiche by Zoe Chomarat.
Tryptiche by Zoe Chomarat.

Having lived in Malta for the past 12 years and showing no sign of wanting to leave the islands, the French painter Zoe Chomarat is clearly comfortable, and consistently inspired, by her adoptive homeland.

Though she isn't a fan of "violence and war" as a rule - she tells me with a smile - Malta's history, especially that of the Knights of St John and most particularly the Great Siege, has spurned her to create impressionistic historical episodes.

But on what is perhaps a more visceral - and even 'spiritual' level - it is the Maltese rock, whose "beauty and infinite variety" serves as a consistent inspiration for her, as she constantly keeps a sketchbook by her side to capture the impressions of the rock. The 'prep work' which her sketches serve for tend to be executed, quite often, while Chomarat is spending time on her boat during the summer. It is then during the winter months that she explores the colour schemes that would be suitable for her paintings - which are shaped just as much by her imagination as her surroundings.

Exhibiting her work locally roughly every three years, Chormarat says that she was spurned to donate proceedings from her work to dogs after witnessing first-hand the conditions of some of the local animal shelters.

"I immediately thought: how can I help with this? And just as quickly I figured out that yes, of course, I can sell my work. It's been something I've been proud to do ever since." 

During our conversation, Chomarat reveals herself to be very vocal about the contemporary art scene. Confessing that, at least in the local sphere, she works "in a bubble", she still remains aware of international artistic trends... which, however, doesn't mean she views the current scenario in a favourable light.

Zoe Chomarat

Zoe Chomarat.

Lamenting the fact that beauty has ceased to be a priority for contemporary artists, she says that wilfully obscure conceptual art - what is currently in vogue in the UK and America - has ruined the experience of art for many people.

"I think it comes down to the way the Impressionists were first received at the turn of the 19th century. The establishment snobbed them off as clueless upstarts at first, but then the artists were vindicated by history. So now, everyone is wary of coming across as clueless, so we pretend we like and understand everything that gets exhibited..."

Chormarat says that France, is "to blame" for this stagnant scenario, owing to figures like Marcel Duchamp - who famously exhibited a urinal as a work of art. But she qualifies this assessment, saying that "Duchamp was really treating it as a joke - he was poking fun at the way people perceive art. But now that attitude has cemented itself into the mainstream, and such works are taken entirely seriously."

"Our definition of art nowadays is also I problem. For example, when I went to visit the Tate Modern I saw a very interesting exhibition by an artist who collected the rubbish accrued around the Thames... it was certainly interesting to observe and experience, but I don't see why we call it art. Anthropology, ethnography maybe... but not art."

As we round off our interview, Chomarat reiterates her simple but universally enduring manifesto.

"Unfashionable as it may sound nowadays... I just think that art should be beautiful."

Zoe Chomarat will be exhibiting at St John's Cavalier, Valletta from November 23-30. Opening hours: 10:00 to 17:00.