Divergence means courage

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 Mario Abela.

Mario Abela
Mario Abela

How would you describe the dynamic of Divergent Thinkers?

I believe that the term ‘Divergent Thinkers’ sums up very much the physical and intellectual process that contemporary artists need to undergo. In my personal experience, art is a process of elaboration of the media employed but also, and equally importantly, the elaboration of ideas that challenge accepted notions of the subject of art.

Divergence has to be equivalent to courage; courage to break new ground. But this is only possible if concurrently with that courage, one is also a thinker, one who thinks through his work and strives to reproduce both his thoughts and his divergence into an appreciable result.

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

In my work, I seek to re-work the environment and context of images and situations, through anachronism, impossibility and the manipulation of reality. What interests me is the semiological message underlying such situations.

Visual art is a continuous exploration of myself and what surrounds me. It is the attempt to portray the radical in as ‘real’ a way as possible, and this is a way of coming to terms both with myself and with my environment.

I don’t exhibit my works a lot but for this particular exhibition I chose the local approach. I am based in Malta, in Gozo, to be precise, and most of my work is conceived in a Maltese context. Therefore it’s useless to argue that my art in general is not primarily local.

On the other hand this does not mean that my ideas cannot – and do not – target a wider field. After all, with Malta’s membership in the European Union and its geographical location at the crossroads between Africa and Europe, give to our island an international dimension.

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?

Art is a lifelong process. I never studied art academically until post-secondary while reading for my Art A-level. Previously, my first art educator was a book entitled ‘Paint and Draw with Tony Hart’. With his step-by-step drawings and paintings, and along with other art enrichment courses, I managed to strengthen my foundations in art practice in a large array of mediums.

Then, during my B.Ed course I was fortunate enough to be under the tuition of some artist members from the Maltese art movement START. I can say that their radical vision of art opened a new path in my artistic career. Moreover I continued to master my artistic vision of things based on philosophical and theoretical grounds during my MFA in Digital Arts obtained last year.

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

VIVA is not only a platform that helps the artist to launch himself in the Maltese artistic scene, but is also encouraging and educating the public through participation in such exhibitions. It’s not just another institution that is calling only art connoisseurs to museums and galleries but it is looking beyond that, to educating the public through art.

What’s next for you?

Who knows! For Richard Huelsenbeck “the best and most extraordinary artists will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out of the frenzied cataract of life, who, with bleeding hands and hearts, hold fast to the intelligence of their time.”

 I do not wish to fall into a rut; I devoutly wish to remain “divergent” from the common stream. And in order to do that the mechanism of the brain have constantly to remain active to combat the trite and the mundane. As to what’s next, that will be up to my ability to keep up with this.

Divergent Thinkers 03 is being organised by Aġenzija Żgħażagħ, with the support of St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity. Divergent Thinkers 03 is part of VIVA - Valletta International Visual Arts Festival. www.viva.org.mt and will run from 31 August to 27 September at St James Cavalier.

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