Painting through doubt | Gabriel Buttigieg

In our ongoing drive to uncover the up-and-coming talent in local visual arts, we speak to Gabriel Buttigieg, who has recently exhibited his work at the Divergent Thinkers 2 exhibition at St James Cavalier along with a group of artistic peers.

Gabriel Buttigieg.
Gabriel Buttigieg.

"Art is an integral part of who I am, and has been so since childhood. Not to paint is to deny myself my daily tonic. I perpetually struggle to produce works which will satisfy me, while constantly raising the bar of what would be good, or even acceptable in my work. I am not easily satisfied, which makes it all very difficult, however it is precisely that which fuels my drive. I question what I produce as I question the rest of life. I strongly believe that art is all about questioning. As an artist I'm always questioning the pieces I produce, ready to accept failure. Thus, I'm constantly painting in doubt.

"After experimenting with several media and techniques throughout the years, lately I felt I had to apply the technique to a particular concept. This led to the study of philosophy and psychology, which help me understand humanity better. This led me to use a more imaginative approach than I had applied before. As many artists, I've also spend years practising and deepening my knowledge of the academic side of art. Even though it may sound a bit of a cliché, for me, being able to understand life's complexities is the key to simplification, which I tend to search for in my art. Now, my palette is quite raw, spontaneous, instinctive and at the same time decorative. This allows many themes to be expressed more subtly. I also believe that my paintings are rather moody.

"I've always been engrossed with having a model in front of me while I paint. I dedicated an amount of importance on design throughout my artistic education. This then led to the interpretation of the figure.

"Before I paint I plum the soul of the individual and Dorianne, my model, is a person I know intimately. Before Divergent Thinkers 2, I rarely painted from imagination as I always focused on the model's characteristics. I also chose Dorianne as my model for this collective exhibition as I had to dedicate an amount of time studying and sketching out several pieces in order to be satisfied with at least three works. Very luckily for me, Dorianne was willing to devote long hours posing daily in my studio and since she actually had the time, she offered to help.

"I've always painted indoors with a model; thus, I had to find someone that would also dedicate an amount of time for this exhibition in order to achieve what I aimed for. Today, I am now applying what I had learnt from figurative painting studied throughout the years to a more imaginative approach.

Gabriel Buttigieg Dorianne

"The energy I sensed from my fellow artists at the Divergent Thinkers 2 exhibition was great, especially at the opening. I had the opportunity to meet with several people and contemporary artists whom I look up to when in doubt. I must confess that I was a bit anxious about how the public would react to my work, as it was my first time exhibiting in public. On a more inward level, I was also worried about what my opinion of my work will be in a couple of months, since my art evolves constantly and with it my evaluation of it. However, I had to expose my work, as I must admit that I had been working quite hard for it. I had very good feedback.

"There are several artists' who are constantly rattling in my head, especially while I paint. I have to struggle relentlessly not to let myself be influenced by them in the work I produce even though like many other artists I do tend to appropriate in order to produce something more personal. My favourite is the art of the early 20th century up to the 1950s. I do look up to several artists, who had worked during that period.

"I also do my best to educate myself in the best way possible by reading and visiting exhibitions in order to learn more and create an intellectual baggage, which I believe, will help me in the work I produce. Artists like Soutine, Modigliani, Schiele, Vuillard, Matisse, Valadon, Toulouse-Lautrec and even more recent ones like, Marini, Baba, Giacometti had a great influence in my work. The years spanning the beginning of post-impressionism up to the birth of conceptualism produced grand artists to whom I look up. Local artists, such as Carmelo Mangion, Antoine Camilleri, Ceaser Attard, Raymond Pitre, Vince Briffa and several others have also played an important role.

"I would have usually been ruminating about a particular painting for days, and might occasionally start sketching random pieces on paper in the few days or hours before actually drawing the painting itself. Then when I feel I am ready I simply prepare my 'equipment' and after abandoning any conscious thought transfer my thoughts on paper.

Gabriel Buttigieg Landscape

"That question of whether I should work full time as an artist haunts me on most days and that is why I push my limits all the time. I admit I toyed with the idea of studying art full time somewhere beyond these shores, however from a practical point of view it is a huge investment with returns which are not guaranteed. Nevertheless, painting abroad remains a dream, which I hope to realise in the future. However, I must admit that I'm very satisfied following a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts in Digital Arts at the University of Malta.

"The other point to mention is that if I had to become a full time artist I might eventually have to depend on the people who purchase my art as a source of income. I'd be risking allowing my art to become much more commercial over time, as I would be forced to satisfy people's wishes rather than express my own.

"This is why I try to do art on a daily basis, to continue improving the quality of my work, so that I can prove to people that my art is beautiful enough to be on your living room wall, and complex enough that even if for a short while, it will be the centre of discussion on your next Christmas gathering.

"I am working on a daily basis, trying to integrate various humanistic themes, especially philosophy and human psychology and using it as an inspiration for my art. I might spend months pushing the limits of a particular area, and then move on to something new. With the help of Vince Briffa and Keith Balzan - who are my mentors - I am currently working towards my first solo exhibition, which I will hold when I feel more assured about the quality of my work.

"I am also planning to work with my father, Alfred Buttigieg, on one of his books, 'Dik il Qtajra' ('The Droplet') which explores various existential themes, which I very much connect with and illustrate a new edition of his book, over 30 years after it was first published."

An incorrect version of this article was published in the December 22 edition of MaltaToday. The error is regretted.