‘Calling yourself an artist is pretentious’ | Jesmond Vassallo

Painter Jesmond Vassallo speaks to us about his latest solo exhibition, Landschaft 2014, currently on show at the German-Maltese Circle in Valletta.

You’ve said that you wouldn’t consider yourself as an artist. Could you expand on this?

I do not consider myself an artist. I will expand a bit on this. I consider myself to be more of a craftsman, and among the crafts that I practice are printmaking, clay modelling, sculpture and painting.

Recently I was reading an interview by Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz with an excellent painter whom I admire, Balthus. Here Balthus claimed to “detest the word artist and find the word creation – so often used by those who call themselves artists – pretentious... as for me, I would simply call myself a craftsman”. I could not agree more.

To call yourself an artist, you do not need accomplishments; all you need is a good dose of pretentiousness.

Why did you choose the German-Maltese Circle in particular to collaborate for this exhibition?

Like any other building in Valletta, Messina Palace – which is name of the building where the German-Maltese Circle is situated – has a fascinating history. The building goes back to end of the 16th century, and in 1989 it was purchased by the Circle. What attracts me to this space is its grandeur and beauty and the care with which its director, Victor Sammut, treats it.

The elegant staircase, the arched courtyard, the main hall adorned with frescoes hand painted in lively colours, the private chapel with its marble altar are among its components of grandeur and beauty.

In 2007 I held an exhibition of prints: ‘Of Life along Canals’, a collection of landscapes inspired by Venice. It was held at the German-Maltese Circle, where the space allotted for exhibitions was professionally laid out. There is a warm feeling in this palace and one can feel it as soon as one enters.

There is lots of space where one can exhibit works, with proper lighting providing good illumination. It is one of the few exhibition spaces where you can actually see works in natural light.

Is there something intrinsically in the exhibition that ties to Germany?

Nothing intrinsically German in this exhibition – no German landscapes. However, on second thoughts, if one had to look at it from a historical perspective my works bear some influences of German painters I admire, like Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Franz Marc. Another German-born British painter who is still alive and whom I admire is Frank Auerbach. Although there is no deep connection with Germany, I think a sharpened eye can trace some of these influences.

What’s next for you?

More experimentation and larger formats and learning different media. I am planning to return to a thorough study of sculpture, another skill that I am trained in and would like to practice more.

The exhibition will remain open until October 31 at the German-Maltese Circle, Messina Palace, 141, St Christopher’s Street, Valletta. Opening hours: 08:30-12:30 and 16:00-19:30 (Monday to Friday); 08:30-12:30 (Saturday).

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