The lure of the surreal | Tom Farrugia

Following the MCAST Art and Design End-of- Year exhibition, MaltaToday interviews some of Malta’s (hopefully) up-and-coming artists. This week, we speak to Tom Farrugia

Tom Farrugia
Tom Farrugia
Silver Skull pendant by Tom Farrugia
Silver Skull pendant by Tom Farrugia

How has your time at MCAST shaped and influenced your work?

I think the greatest boon I got from MCAST was the opportunity to experiment with sculpture and three-dimensional media, especially when I had assignments dedicated to formal sculpture practice.

Together with moulding and casting, this helped me start producing small to medium scale works in clay, resin, Plaster of Paris and occasionally, wood and stone. I also had some basic tuition in jewellery design, mainly small-scale precious metal-working and the lost-wax casting process, which allows me to experiment with creating small, wearable artefacts.

Other than that, I would have to say that the guidance of certain tutors of mine was invaluable and they went out of their way to help me in order to make up for the institute’s often awkward and lackadaisical approach to artistic education.

At this point in time, what would you say is the main defining factor of your work?

I work primarily out of a fascination with people, both in their physical aesthetics and the psychological implications behind them. I prefer to treat a portrait as something between a still life and a landscape; placing one or more human figures within a physical and emotional context.

Memento Mori is also a guilty pleasure of mine, between the silver skulls and the sketches of bones, though I don’t put much out for fear of getting too repetitive or seeming kitsch. 

What do you make of the local artistic scene? Would you say that it’s accommodating to young artists such as yourself?

This is something of a difficult subject – I do try to attend exhibitions and keep in contact with some local artists and the scene feels very eclectic to me. I see a wide variety of media, approaches and skill levels exhibited, but more often than not, I prefer the slightly more underground scene. 

A good number of artists don’t seem to be interested in exhibiting their work conventionally; graffiti artists or sculptors working for films or designers, jewellers, tattooists, and so on. It isn’t necessarily difficult to get your work into an exhibition, as long as you have work to show – it could just be a question of funding or seizing the right opportunity.  That notwithstanding, it’s difficult for any artist to get significant sales in Malta, whether they exhibit often or not. So it’s accommodating in some ways and perhaps not others.

What is the next step in your artistic development?

Despite wanting to be a part of the artistic community, and ideally make money from my work, I feel like I have a long way to go in terms of technical skill as well as that creative, artistic adeptness which makes strong and interesting work.

I want to practice my craft more than I’ve had the chance to in the last year or so, and work on my figurative painting and sculpture, as well as some contemporary illustration.

In conceptual terms, I’ve been exploring Sigmund Freud and Ernst Jentsch’s Unheimlich and the darker side of the human psyche in aesthetic terms. It’s quite a pursuit, generally easier to express in a moving format, so that gives me quite a bit to play with visually. I also like to explore the surreal and occasionally the somewhat bizarre, but generally do this while keeping some grounding in reality in order to keep things at least aesthetically relatable. 

For more on Tom Farrugia, check out his online portfolio at:

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