Art | Madeleine Gera

Local artist Madeleine Gera talks to Teodor Reljic about her forthcoming exhibition at Il Gattopardo Art Gallery & Bistro in Mdina, artistic influences and the importance of creative space.

You’ve mentioned that naturalism is your preferred style, and furthermore that every artist should make a decision about the kind of tradition they want to work in. At what point in your progress as an artist did you decide on naturalism as your preferred method and more importantly, why did you find this to be the best method for you? I think there is relevance in making a choice on what kind of artist one wants to be. Becoming an artist is not something that happens overnight or after finishing a degree course. It takes time. Painting figuratively is an umbrella term covering a myriad of styles and ‘isms’ across time. The choice to paint and work from life wasn’t a decision I took one fine day – it involved a long process and had a lot to do with my formation as a painter before I had even turned 20. Sure, I have experimented with other styles, but in this past decade of my life, I have refocused my work on painting as the eye sees. Who and/or what are some of your main influences? I love 19th century painting. Artists like Giacomo Favtretto, Pier Paolo Micheti, Mancini, Ilya Repin, Anders Zorn and John Singer Sargent to name a few. I admire the way they use paint to convey a moment or impression in time. I also like Nicholai Fechin portraits. What drew you to portraiture? Is there something inherently inspirational about people, and about capturing their personalities succinctly, in just one image? Since 2002 I’ve spent some time of the year in Florence where I work and paint. I believe my passion for the portrait started around then. I love to paint and draw from life – it’s like a drug, the more I do it, the more I get out of it. At the moment, I’m doing lots of two-hour charcoal studies. Sometimes I even do two portraits a day – the equivalent of going 2.5km an hour! I stand and walk up and down when I draw or paint – people who have sat for me in my studio can confirm this. Tell me about your studio. Why is Valletta particularly inspiring for a painter like yourself? My studio is northeast facing, which is pretty good for light. It’s draped in black with spotlights. Valletta is the best place for me because of the Museum of Fine Arts. What’s more, it’s Malta’s cultural capital. What are the joys derived from teaching like, when contrasted with the art of painting itself? I love to teach, but not in an institution – my studio is different. People who come soon find out they have to work very hard. It’s very rewarding, especially when participants in the course really start seeing and getting into their work. My motto is ‘If I can teach it, I can do it’. What was it like to work on the Edward Caruana Dingli exhibition this year? It must have been an honour to participate in something so integral to Maltese art history... It was an experience of a lifetime getting to see and write about so many of Edward Caruana Dingli’s paintings, especially his portraits, as well as working with an organisation like Patrimonju Malti. It was a great success. What was it like to paint the President and his wife? Did they make for interesting models, and were they pleased with the overall result? I believe the President Dr George Abela and Mrs Abela are pleased with the result, this being the second time I have painted a head of State. The first time was President Emeritus Dr Edward Fenech Adami. What’s your opinion of the local arts scene? Any promising artists on the horizon? The local art scene – now that’s a million dollar question. I can’t answer that but we should ask ourselves: ‘What sort of art scene do we want?’ I see lot of initiative – young or youngish people opening galleries or specific organisations for contemporary art. The arts need support, otherwise they will be hard to sustain. The contemporary artists who I personally like and admire are Kate Lehman, Michael Grimaldi, Steven Assael, Michael Klein, Juliette Aristides, Noel Galea Bason, Dion Buhagiar, and Odd Nerdrum. I like painting and sculpture in which there is a strong figurative presence and a strong ‘disegno’ background. It’s not about what you paint, it’s how you paint it.