Interrogating what’s inside | XaXa Calleja

We speak to painter Xaxa Calleja about her expressionistic new showcase. ‘Interiority Disclosed’, on show at St James Cavalier from December 6, seeks to explore “the inner life within us both on a physiological and psychological plane”. 

XaXa Calleja
XaXa Calleja
Selection from Interiority Disclosed by XaXa Calleja
Selection from Interiority Disclosed by XaXa Calleja
Selection from Interiority Disclosed by XaXa Calleja
Selection from Interiority Disclosed by XaXa Calleja

When did you first start taking painting seriously?

I started seriously pursuing art in 2006, when I started attending lessons at the Jason Lu Studio. We trained in the Braque method drawing, where students are taught the sight-size method in order to view the subject accurately, and translate three-dimensional form in two dimensions. This method of measurement is applied to casts, still lifes, the human figure and portraiture. Working within an artist’s studio helped me in my working methodology to persist in my own work.

What have been some of the most significant developments in your style over the years?

I have noticed that in my work I have been moving slowly from the exterior towards the interior. My first exhibition in 2010 ‘365’ focused on the idea of building a façade on daily basis, having a mask for everyday of the year, my second exhibition ‘The Trees’ was an exploration of anthropomorphism – the idea of wanting to see our own likeness within the fabric of the tree, and finally the third Interiority Disclosed using anatomy as my starting point, I was interested in different times of our existence and seeking to explore the inner life or substance within us.

I would say that my style has always been expressive, it very much reflects the mood that I am going through while creating the works.

How much of your artistic development would you attribute to your academic background, as opposed to personal initiative?

I would definitely say that having some training academic has helped me with my eye and hand co-ordination. At the beginning it was important for me to have someone guide me through this process. I found the process laborious but I was lucky enough to have worked with an artist who was not only trained me academically training but also gave me the freedom to develop my own style. Although I would not consider myself an academic painter I would say I try to meld the two together. They are both vital elements, the academic training helps but without your own personal initiative I don’t think that you'll get anywhere.

Are you satisfied with the educational opportunities that you’ve had as an artist? Were you able to apply all that you learnt directly to your ‘personal’ work?

At the time I found it quite difficult to find a place to study in Malta, I tried different studios and different schools but nothing really stuck, at one point I was thinking about studying abroad but could not afford it. I was lucky enough to find an artist who was willing to teach me academic drawing and painting in Malta.

I think that when you go through a process of learning, what you have learnt is always there in the background, something always sticks. As I said before I do not consider myself an academic painter, I studied academic drawing and painting so that I could accurately portray what I wanted to express.

What led you to pick human anatomy as the subject of this exhibition? 

I started thinking about this project a couple of months after exhibiting The Trees, initially what drew me to human anatomy was the parallels that I saw between the internal workings of the body and the branches and foliage that I had depicted in The Trees. At first it was just a case of looking at images of different parts and letting the anatomy inspire me in the form of what the work would take.

In the process I started to realise that there were particular areas that intrigued me, such as the head. And I started to do various studies of these areas in particular, it started to become clear that my interest was not just depicting areas of the body which are anatomically correct but it was more about the psychological concept behind it.

What kind of opportunities did you see arising out of it?

The more that I delved into the subject it was like an onion, there was something else to discover, the more works I produced I felt like I got closer to what it is to be human.

This series has helped me to look at different times of our existence, our beginning, the period of maturity, when we are at our prime and then when our body starts to fade and all that is left are our bones.

We exist in this form and obviously it is something which we cannot escape from. I am intrigued by this process. We are part of this circle of existence not by our own choice, we find ourselves in this situation. I think that it is a feeling that we can all relate to at some level.

What attracts you to the medium of acrylic ink?

This is the first time I am exhibiting works in this medium, the linearity and fluidity of the subject, I feel went well with the medium.

How do you think it suits your purposes for this particular exhibition?

For this exhibition the works became more simplified towards the end. At the beginning there was a lot of darkness and more use of black. Towards the end the works became more fluid and simplified and the colours bolder. I think that it was because I used this medium that I was able to produce these types of works.   

What’s next for you?

Right now I am interested in psychological patterns, I am particularly interested in Jung’s archetypes and also mandalas. So I am thinking about exploring that subject in my next series.

Interiority Disclosed will remain on display at St James Cavalier until January 4. The exhibition is curated by Roderick Camilleri and supported by the Malta Arts Fund