These daily wars | Ryan Falzon

One of Malta’s most promising up-and-coming artists, Ryan Falzon, speaks to Teodor Reljic about his upcoming exhibition We Lost the War, which employs his vivid and ‘deceptively simple’ style to comment on some weighty issues

Ryan Falzon
Ryan Falzon

The title of the exhibition is very evocative, particularly given the turbulent happenings of 2016. What kind of pressure points did you hope to poke with the title, and how does this reflect in the work you’ll be exhibiting? 

The exhibition is about little wars that are lost on a daily basis. It treats various issues, including that of political violence. The projection of violence in the show goes beyond mere reportage. These are not cut and paste images of terrorists from the news, but an attempt to interpret the idea of loss by blending the political with the personal. 

Your previous exhibition – ‘Quick Fix: A Morality Tale’ – used your print and-woodcut style to startling effect to tell a modern-day parable through a somewhat ‘medieval’ format. How will you adapt this style to We Lost the War, and what were the intentions behind your stylistic choices this time around? 

Are you happy now, Mr RAF? by Ryan Falzon
Are you happy now, Mr RAF? by Ryan Falzon

We Lost the War consists of 23 paintings. My aim is to present an eclectic mix of carefully selected icons from various sources that have a personal resonance, but which I hope will also resonate with the viewing public. A recurrent theme in the works is that of deception. I wanted the paintings themselves to look deceptively simple, to look as if they were created in haste. In reality, a long process of research and planning preceded the creation of each work. 

The deception is also echoed in the presentation of the subject matter, where dark themes are conveyed through the use of bold, bright colours. I have continued to develop a multi-layered narration, which so far has always been an integral part of all of my works. The works presented need to be read, often literally. I try to leave all the room possible for the viewer’s interpretation, in a playful approach in which viewers can engage with the paintings in their own way. 

Apart from perhaps Gabriel Buttigieg, you are possibly among the youngest artists regularly exhibiting in key venues around the island – such as, indeed, the ‘Spazju Kreattiv’. And arguably, your aesthetic and approach is fully in line with this, having a decidedly ‘punk’ aesthetic. Given that you have also received public funding for your exhibition and are showcasing your work in some ‘establishment’ venues, how do you feel this impacts the somewhat abrasive quality of your work, if at all? 

The venue was more a matter of function than choice. Spazju Kreattiv is one of the few “white cube” venues that can support the works presented. Many paintings are large scale ones, with some going up to 2 by 2 metres. I think what you call the “establishment” should support art that is not necessarily ‘easy’, and funding should depend on the quality of the work. The question is whether rebellion and anti-establishment stands have been adopted by the mainstream as an accepted part of culture. The real danger is that this appropriation might tame the artist, who can be tempted to produce safe art. How futile are our little acts of subversion? 

And what are some of the key challenges local artists face, and how do you think they can be overcome? 

We Lost the War by Ryan Falzon
We Lost the War by Ryan Falzon

I would say that networking between artists, local and international, will counteract the problem of insularity. I do not like the discourse about limited opportunities. Technology has made accessibility much easier, boundaries have been brought down and networking is also much easier. With cheap flights available, it is much easier for artists to go to events and talks, making up for the lack of great exhibitions which a small country can never really have. Having said this, I do understand that one needs to be totally on the ball to get the most out of an art scene, so nothing can come close to being part of an active and buzzing scene where people go to shows for networking and scouting, rather than a chat between friends and a free glass of wine. 

What’s next for you?

I was planning a break, but it seems that is not going to happen. I work in a very set manner, exclusively in series or a couple of standalone large scale paintings. Large scale works demand energy and planning, along with other logistics such as storage. The theme of violence is something I will definitely explore again, most probably in grey scale prints, and along with the We Lost The War body of work, I have been simultaneously working on some portraits and other paintings dealing with the theme of lost love and short affairs. 

We Lost the War, which is supported by Arts Council Malta and Spazju Kreattiv, will be on display at Spazju Kreattiv, St James Cavalier, Valletta from 20 January to 2 February