Bits and pieces | John Paul Azzopardi

Mixed-media sculptor John Paul Azzopardi speaks to Teodor Reljic about his upcoming exhibition Bri·co·lage at Il-Hagar, Heart of Gozo, St George’s Square, Victoria

Study of Haeckles Vampyrus
Study of Haeckles Vampyrus
Burn No. 3 (detail)
Burn No. 3 (detail)
Severing the Quadruple (W)hole
Severing the Quadruple (W)hole
Untitled No. 4
Untitled No. 4

The brief for your exhibition suggests that there is a strong conceptual element to it. Were there specific ideas you wanted to tackle a priori, or did they occur to you as you were working on the sculptures themselves?

Most of my artwork is conceptual and this exhibition will be a continuation of the style that I’ve been practicing over the past few years (i.e., bricolage). I’m not interested in creating work without a strong concept, and I’m not trying to say that I’m not interested in other art forms that are not conceptual.

However as a human being, I want to give meaning to my life, to what I create and how I create it and why I need to create. All works start off with an a priori concept, but I do change certain aspects of the narrative as I go along. If I see that something doesn’t deem fit – be it from the material aspect or concept – I feel obliged to change it, because I would be cheating myself.

If I suddenly realise that there is a weak point in an argument, I would have to change it because one should always focus on truth and honesty with oneself and other people. So the whole process is like unfolding implicit and explicit meanings where explicit is the obvious basic form of the sculpture and theme, while the implicit are the symbols that enhance the overall form and meaning.

How does your process usually pan out, when you’re putting these pieces together?

With regards to my mixed media sculpture, I always tend to start from the subject matter I want to explore. Through research, the subject then throws you into a wider field, hopefully coming to a deeper understanding of the central idea: as mentioned, by creating a dialogue between my current thoughts, reading, understanding and criticising these ideas. Then I try to find out how I’m going to portray the subject in a symbolic narrative structure.

I start choosing the materials and found objects both in its overall structure and also the individual symbols I need to include to make the narrative hermeneutically sound. So I make a list of objects that would deem fit for symbolic representation.

The bone works are of a different nature. They all have a common narrative but they manifest  in different forms. You could say that when it comes to the bone works, there is really one theme going on, with just the form of the sculpture changing. My bone works are directly opposite to my mixed media sculptures, since the latter portray different subjects with layers of meaning, thus creating critical statements.

The bone works are silent. They give you an opportunity to relate to its still nature. Rather than continuously exercising the intellect, one could obtain an opportunity to exercise his or her silence by meditating on the artwork.

Do you consider yourself to be substantially different from more ‘mainstream’ artists, or would you say that you simply use different tools and methods to achieve similar goals to other sculptors?

I think that my practical method and standpoint is slightly different from the mainstream artist. There have been a number of artists who have created assemblage structures but sometimes they still lack refinement and rigour. I think that a lot of local artists (since I can only judge from where I live) have a hobby-like tendency towards their work, and their judgement is based on simply having fun.

The creation of art is hard labour which can dictate your moods unless you know how to let go of the feelings that are generated by the production. It also depends on how a person values art and how important it is for one’s life. For many artists, art gives their existence a meaningful life. An artist should cherish and respect the nature of creativity: you can’t have a larger tool at hand.

Then there are those who allow their ego to completely take over which can influence the delicate process of creativity. I’m not saying to put aside the ego, but to at least be more humble towards oneself. And I think that the last malaise is that since we live on a small island there is always a bunch of people who will accept your art and say its “great”. We don’t help each other critically because we’re too worried about hurting each other’s feelings. Having said that though, I don’t mean to imply that we such just butcher each other’s work either.

What theme or mood you want to communicate with Bri·co·lage in particular?

The basic underlying theme of these bricolage works communicate existentialist moods; be they the mixed media works and also the bone sculptures. In this exhibition I will be exhibiting a collection of works from my Saṃskāra series – Decay – and also bone-work, so it will be a variety of works which are all bricolage constructs, interwoven narratives from the East and West.

Bri·co·lage will be on display from June 27 to July 27. Open Monday to Sunday from 09:00 to 17:30

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