Liberating art

The third edition of the Divergent Thinkers collective exhibition – incorporating a group of young artists and curated by Raphael Vella – will take place at Blitz, St Lucy Street, Valletta from August 31 to September 27, using ‘RADICAL’ as its artistic prompt. This week, we speak to Julian Mallia.

Julian Mallia
Julian Mallia

How would you describe the dynamic of Divergent Thinkers?

From the first time I heard about “Divergent Thinkers” I was immediately lured by the name itself. I feel that often fine art is relegated to the category of decoration.  It’s as if for art to be “good” it needs to be “sellable” i.e. it has to be pretty / the colours have to match the living room curtains / it needs to feature a beautiful sunset with the Maltese “luzzu” on the horizon / be a portrait of a beautiful lady staring dramatically into the distance / other generic clichés.

Though an admirable set of skills are required to create decorative art, my personal work is anything but decorative. “Divergent Thinkers” places a very noticeable emphasis on ideas that are the result of an uninhibited, explorative, creative process. This is why I could immediately relate to the concept of “Divergent Thinkers” - a context that allows for incubation and development of ideas.

Though I put a lot of work into the final execution (that, in the case of this exhibition, was carried out meticulously using pencil), this is merely the accumulation of a series of exploratory efforts, failures, experimentation and other dynamics involved in a genuine, idea generation process.

To me, traditional artistic skill is merely the alphabet that, once mastered adequately, can be used to communicate an idea visually. The non-restrictive, facilitative, challenging and open-minded conditions set out by “Divergent Thinkers” has provided a fertile space for us participants to generate ideas that go further than what is normally expected out of visual art.

The Plight of the Homeless Orca - Pencils on Paper - 70cm x 50cm - 2014
The Plight of the Homeless Orca - Pencils on Paper - 70cm x 50cm - 2014

Would you say that your approach to art is primarily local, or international? How so?

I don’t really plan to target any particular audience with my fine art work. To me, reaching anyone is a by-product of doing something that is valid to me. My priority is to create genuine work that is meaningful to me. However it’s beautiful when other people - irrespective of nationality - relate to my work.

We all have our own idiosyncratic, individual journeys and it’s fascinating that diverse human experiences can somehow intersect and relate to a single piece of artwork. So, to answer your question, since I don’t have any specific target audience in mind, I guess that makes my approach to art primarily international.

Oral Delight - Pencils on Paper - 50cm x 70cm - 2013
Oral Delight - Pencils on Paper - 50cm x 70cm - 2013

What are some of the most important things you’ve learnt about art from school and other educational institutions? What are some of the most important things you’ve learnt at your own initiative?

My educational journey so far has been quite meandering. I started out by studying sciences during sixth form, and then read for a degree in Psychology - a subject that still fascinates me greatly. I later moved on to read for a degree in Graphic Design.

My reluctance to immerse myself into art-related education at an earlier stage was probably influenced by the institutionalised, false impression that art is a refuge for students who are academically inept. My unconventional move to attend MCAST after completing a degree at the University of Malta was pivotal for me to exploit my creative potential effectively.

The MCAST experience was quite enriching and I am grateful that I was skilfully taught about the indispensable importance of strong idea generation by celebrity graphic designer and photographer Mike Ross.

After completing the course at MCAST and working in the advertising industry as a graphic designer and illustrator, I had to make use of skills I have accumulated through formal education and own initiatives.  Some of the (possibly cliché-ridden) beliefs I learnt permeate through my work, such as not getting attached to initial ideas, doing work that speaks to you on a profound level and assimilating life experiences. Learning to work with deadlines and always being eager to learn – both about the art and about yourself – are crucial skills and traits. And one should never stop having fun when creating.

Move Back - Pencils and digital - 2010
Move Back - Pencils and digital - 2010

How do you think participating in VIVA will help you as an artist?

Participating in VIVA will help me showcase my work in a multidisciplinary, healthy artistic context. Exposing my recent work will enable me to get feedback from a wider audience as well as enabling me to meet like-minded people who can relate to my work.

Working alongside other artists with a common underlying predisposition is also quite satisfying and enriching. Hopefully my contribution to “Divergent Thinkers” will help in pushing the local boundaries of what is acceptable as valid artistic output.

The Art of Silence - digital
The Art of Silence - digital

What’s next for you?

After having spent the last four years working as a graphic designer and illustrator with a leading advertising agency I will be moving to the UK to read for a Masters Degree in Illustration.

What I find intriguing in illustration is the fact that it tends to bridge the commercial world of graphic design to the more personally relevant fine art world. Of course this move will entail a number of significant personal sacrifices but I feel that this is necessary to broaden my perspective on art and life in general.

I hope that this relocation will enable me to enrich my artistic journey to create more meaningful, relatable artistic output.

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