Figures in a landscape | Gabriel Buttigieg

Young painter Gabriel Buttigieg speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about his first solo exhibition, entitled ‘Paintings’, currently on show at Heritage Malta, Valletta

Gabriel Buttigieg
Gabriel Buttigieg

What led to your interest in the visual arts, and how did you continue to cultivate it in your earliest stages?

I have always been a very visual person. Colours and shape and the ways they interact fascinate me. I guess that like everybody I need to express myself and I find art, especially the visual arts, give me scope for expression. I also find a lot of satisfaction and inspiration in literature, and reading is one of the greatest joys in my life. I found a lot of support from my tutors, who cultivated in me different skills and attitudes. I hope to continue developing these skills into a personal language that reflects my feelings and my understanding of the world around me.

Was the human figure always something you liked to focus on? Why do you think this particular subject works with your own artistic abilities and inclinations?

Depicting the human body is for me a powerful way to reflect on the human condition. The physical presence is often a strong symbol for the inner life.  Lately my paintings have moved away from depicting solitary figures and moved towards exploring relationships between various figures. I want to express different moods and feelings through a narrative that is present but not explicit.  I like ambiguity.

What kind of significance does this exhibition have for you? What does it say about your work so far?

This exhibition is the product of a period of frenetic activity last summer. It was in a sense the climax of a number of months’ work in which I was, maybe unknowingly, building towards this ‘explosion’ of energy.  In fact, given the location, the Heritage Malta premises in Melita Street, Valletta, my curator Michael Fenech and I had to make a selection of paintings to show, and leave a considerable number of others out simply for reasons of space.
The work I am exhibiting is naturally part of my being, and very much linked to the way I would like to develop as a professional artist. The works are mostly large scale, and the style is very gestural, immediate and impulsive. I intend to continue exploring this style in the future, without limiting myself to any single style. In answer to your question, I see this work as the early stages of a long journey of exploration and discovery ahead of me.

Painting by Gabriel Buttigieg
Painting by Gabriel Buttigieg

What do you make of the Maltese visual arts scene? What would you change about it?

I think that there are a lot interesting things going on at the moment. There seems to be a number of young artists who want to challenge the status quo.  There is also a new interest in private galleries. The more young artists show their work and the more their work is seen by the general public – but especially by artists themselves – the more scope there is for dialogue and cross-fertilization. This can only be a good thing.  

Rather than change I can only comment on what I would like to see. I wish we had a tradition of critical review. As it is, most artists do not have enough feedback, except the soft, positive “prosit tal-programm” type of feedback, which may be encouraging, but does not really help improve one’s work. I find that this lack of truly honest feedback is dangerous. I also wish that artists find better institutional support, not just in financial terms, to help professionalize their practice. One important aspect is the lack of spaces that are publicly funded where artists can show their work.

What’s next for you? 

I am working on a number of projects, which include thematic exhibitions as well as commissioned work. I am excited by the possibilities I see ahead of me and am looking forward to continuing developing as an artist.

Paintings will remain on display until March 13