Priscilla is an intelligent, insightful artist who lives in Malta. Malta may not be the first country that comes to mind when you ponder contemporary art, but Griscti http://www.ainhoart.com/ is among the artists who are putting the country on the map while blazing trails of their own. Here’s our chat.
MICHAEL: Hi Priscilla, Your work is very graphic and female-centric. Let me guess, you really love being a girl or lady or woman? It really seems that your work celebrates the female spirit. Am I right?
PRISCILLA: Yes, most definitely. I have always been drawn to the lines that make a man masculine and a woman feminine. That is not to say that the completeness of one's being is not embracing both the feminine and the masculine aspects of being, it’s just about understanding the primordial essence of creation. The female and the male carry equal power. Yet in understanding procreation and the essence of life that begins through birth, one needs to understand the core characteristics of what the male and the female have to offer.
PRISCILLA: I do really love being a girl, a young lady and a woman. It is about being and understanding all three. Being only mature or only childish or adolescent would be to limit oneself. Whereas to embrace all of the feelings and emotions you once felt and allow yourself to relive them would be to embrace freedom. Being female is ultimately who I am. Through art, I am able to study all parts of my physical, psychological, spiritual existence and beyond. That is why most of my artworks are self-portraits or reflections of myself, because I seek to achieve a greater and deeper understanding of myself in order to then learn how to understand the rest of the world. In order to understand the universe, we must look inside ourselves, because we are a part of the universe and it lies within us. Art allows me to study and explore that which I am, as well as that which I am not. Ultimately, I feel my best expression would rely in that which is female, because I am one and it is what I know to be the closest form of truth from my perspective.
MICHAEL: That makes total sense and it really is the starting point for being able to create and express in your work I would imagine.
PRISCILLA: My artwork is graphic simply because my artistic vision of life tends towards lines, rather than colour. Through my eyes, clear cut lines carry a great clarity and freshness to my imagination, unlike fog, shadows or blurred images. The haziness of life equally intrigues me and carries as many areas to be explored. In a sense, blurred images carry within them a great profundity and mysteriousness unlike that which is clearly seen. But that does not mean that strong cut lines or vivid images cannot also have that profundity. It is all about the spirit and the energy that moves the image and not the actual image itself. It is natural for my instinct to go towards that which is graphic. I was born with this particular vision. However, that does not mean that my mind does not take me in the opposite direction of that which I see. In fact my art tends to go to extremes, both in style and representation. I never felt the need to stick to one particular style and say, this is mine. Life has so much space for exploration and we are continuously changing, growing, so why not reach to the two extremes, why not go beyond even the two extremes, why not diversify, in order to search for truth? So ultimately, to stick to a personal unique style and to not stir away from it would be to stop growing. It is for this reason that my art fluctuates between realistic, expressionistic, surrealistic and even abstract forms of creation.
MICHAEL: You're clearly brilliant, confident and evolved which I think is why you do have such a distinct style. It really seems that you're truly connected to whatever inspires you because it totally shows in your work. What is your inspiration?
PRISCILLA: It is important to have confidence when it comes to the creation of art. Acquired confidence comes with relentless productivity. I feel like my art is in continuous evolution and can never be fully realized or fully evolved. My artworks are just ideas, glimpses, fleeting moments of the imagination. I wouldn't like to think that they are fixed ideas, but carry within them a true emotion that continues to change with the times. I do not have one sole inspiration, as my inspirations come from everywhere. But the essence of my inspiration springs from a mystery of not knowing, a striving to discover more about life and to continuously grow spiritually. This inspiration can come through meeting people from different cultures or backgrounds or through other artistic manifestations. Acquaintances are great inspirations, because everything seems exciting and unpredictable and there is so much to discover. Then there are those rare exceptions where you meet people who are so profoundly deep that every time you speak to them feels like the very first time, because there is this continuous search and discovery. This is seen through the art of many who create from their hearts, from deep within. They carry a great motive towards expression and it is this same drive that I feed on.
MICHAEL: Wow. What artists have inspired you?
PRISCILLA: Some examples of artists who continuously inspire me would be composers like: Max Richter, Philip Glass, Erik Satie and Yann Tiersen; singers like Bjork, Tori Amos, Lhasa de Sela, Lou Rhodes, Sia, Regina Spektor and countless others. I am greatly inspired by Zeitgeist and stop-motion films; directors like Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay, Robert Bresson, Michael Haneke, Pedro Almadovar, Alfred Hitchcock and many more; the dance choreography of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch; Illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac; artists such as Gustav Doré, Odilon Redon, Max Lieberman, Francisco Goya, Edvard Munch, Alfred Kubin, Hans Bellmer, Egon Schiele, to mention a few.
MICHAEL: Malta is so culturally and historically rich, but I'm not sure most people connect it with contemporary art. What's happening in Malta?
PRISCILLA: Up until the 1980s, Malta remained very traditional and closed-minded when it came to accepting Modern art or any avant-garde ideas. Undoubtedly, the modern sensibility in the visual arts in Malta was a belated experience and for many years local art was the victim of inferior critical awareness. Its weakness stemmed primarily from a strong yearning towards beauty and a great love for the aesthetic and to some extent it has remained this way up until today, leaving the majority of the Maltese with an uncompromisingly narrow-minded vision. The locals held an immutable conviction that the highest peak of art could only be reached through Romanticism, making any other style unacceptable. This attitude made locals respond to Modernist ideas with enmity, which in the process often scarred artists and their ideas and expressions.
MICHAEL: Wow. That’s terrible.
PRISCILLA: Even until the late 1970s, the Catholic Church remained the strongest source of influence over the Maltese public posing strict moral values that kept Maltese artists tightly under its wing. Unlike the U.S. and other European countries that further encouraged secular art over the past century, Malta remained enclosed in its own shell, marked with powerful religious sentiments that are rarely seen elsewhere. Modern art started to infiltrate very slowly when a small group of Maltese artists sought to change the ideas and perspectives of the local public. Around the 1950s, there was an awakening of an island community of pioneering artists born out of this period of visual stagnation. This group of artists did not revolt with one collective voice as a unified artistic movement, as each of their styles was completely different, however they did carry one motive, that of changing the prevailing aesthetic and established idiom in Maltese art. Through their diverse styles, they developed a new cultural language that sought to break free entirely from traditionalism. To some extent they succeeded, but this acceptance came about very slowly over the years.
MICHAEL: And so, bringing things up to today, where are we?
PRISCILLA: Through the introduction of the internet, over the past 20 years, there has been a radical change in perspective towards Modern and Contemporary art in Malta. Also, now there is a very small nucleus of Maltese artists who seek to represent contemporary art in Malta as a group, who seek to promote conceptual art and introduce new ideas to the island. I personally wish to see myself as an independent artist, without needing to form part of any group, as I wish for my artworks to be seen and judged for their own artistic merit rather than belonging to a particular community. Although I form part of the contemporary scene in Malta, I want to be seen as an individual contemporary artist without needing to be placed under any category. Being part of Europe, I always look beyond the borders and I believe that through the internet, it doesn't matter where you are in the world because you can reach the other side of the globe at the click of a button.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. Like we’re doing right now!
PRISCILLA: That being said, considering the small size of the island, as you mentioned, Malta is so culturally and historically rich and it is filled with so much beauty. Despite being so small, there is so much to see and to be in awe of. Although it is crucial for me to travel often and explore different countries, there is something about Malta that is so invigorating. I feel that many people who live on the island tend to miss that, many locals tend to take their surroundings for granted and learn to overlook and not appreciate what they have. So I have learned to persistently look at the island with a fresh unconventional attitude, as though seeing things for the very first time and that way, the island bears the fruit for much inspiration. Alternatively, I believe that the life of an artist is not easy anywhere in the world, because it depends on great dedication and persistence to achieve goals both for personal artistic gratification as well as for recognition. I also feel that as with any other country, one will find locals reacting differently towards a painting because an artwork is always subjective. So, one will find locals that can be traditional or open-minded, conservative or accepting of new ideas, because everyone is different and entitled to their own opinion. Also, I have noticed that the younger generation of locals have truly learned to grasp the essence of what is contemporary and this is starting to show not only in the arts, but also in the younger generation's way of life and view of the world. I have come to meet many locals that appreciate or admire my art and my solo exhibitions that have been in Malta have always been received positively by the local public and I continue to have positive feedback from both local and international art collectors.
MICHAEL: That's cool. Do you use your design work as a commercial tool to help support yourself? Or is it just a natural extension of your art?
PRISCILLA: Since I was very young, I was always interested in design. I remember being intrigued by fashion design even from the age of 11. Being the daughter of an antiquarian, I remember spending days at antiques fairs or auction houses, sketching different designs for dresses, whilst also being taken in by the sheer bizarreness of my surroundings. Growing up around antiques gave me an eye for seeing animals, figures, foliage or other motifs encapsulated or intertwined within another form, such as one would see in an intricately ornate leg of a chair, the handle of a teapot, or the frame of a mirror. I always felt like antiques and other objets d'art that I grew up with where my great teachers, because these oddities were a continuously novel feast for my eyes, they incited my curiosity and I meticulously studied and observed the uniqueness with which each piece was created. I truly feel that these aged artefacts were the pillars behind my interest in fashion, because they contained within them the continuous reinvention I so strongly sought. In fact, it is for this reason that I became very interested in surrealism at a young age. Having lived around such fantastical or grotesque images that always entered or left the house, gave further strength to my imagination. It was only then natural for me to start seeing various patterns, figures or motifs configured within any given form. Having this as my key, together with my ideas and imagination, the form in itself became a challenge to me. Form set me a limit, which was limitless. Although I could restrict myself to stick to a particular form and see how diverse I could be in recreating it, I could also break the form, deconstruct it and allow myself limitless freedom.
MICHAEL: This is all further proof that strong exposure to art early in life can have lasting impact.
PRISCILLA: This was intriguing to my mind and my designs were not commercial at all, but were simply a natural extension of my art, or furthermore, just a natural part of my being or way of seeing things. So much so, that my very first solo exhibition, at the age of 18, dealt with surrealistic images of portraits, that at face value you would just see an ordinary face, but on closer observation, you would start to see animals or different creatures that would slowly begin to emerge. The idea behind this was to never take things at face value, but look deeper within oneself and others. My point is that whether design or fine art, one would always fluctuate from one to the other, to such an extent that I have some dress designs that are abstract expressionist. About a year ago, I started a series of shoe designs, completely as a personal project, that emerged as an extension of other ideas I was dealing with at the time. Many people asked me, why did you choose shoes? The thing is, its not about the shoe, it’s about the form. I could take any form at hand and continuously strive to reinvent it, the more constricted I feel, the more challenging it becomes. I have created hundreds of designs of all sorts, and I will never tire of it.
MICHAEL: Finally Priscilla, What do you want your art to say to viewers and what would you like your contribution to the world to be?
PRISCILLA: My primary concern in the creation of my artworks, aside from gaining a deeper spiritual understanding of myself and my reality, would be to project through my style and technique, as much of a pure, authentic emotion as possible. Reaching towards this goal I feel is the key to making art timeless. I believe that true masterpieces are, as Egon Schiele once said, ''primordially eternal.'' Therefore, I wish for my art to contain within it the essence of what is primordially eternal, to carry within them an energy that is pulsating and which infinitely changes with the times. I hope to instill in each one of my creations a part of me that will remain alive, a powerful ''soul'' that would carry my reflection and be able to transmit a pure emotion to the present viewer as well as to the person that will view my works in the future.
MICHAEL: That’s definitely art at its finest and highest calling. Very cool.
PRISCILLA: My biggest dream would be to have my artworks exhibited in major galleries and museums both in Europe and beyond. In the future, I hope to see my work alongside the top artists and aspire to evoke strong reactions in many onlookers. I wish to reveal something hidden in the heart of the spectator, and instill a deep-seated yearning to continuously discover something new in my work. I want my artworks to be the maps with which the viewer chooses to take by the hand, in order to feel like a child once again, to consciously follow a route I drew that will guide them towards the essence of what I believe to be an honest truth about love.
MICHAEL: And your message?
PRISCILLA: What would I like for my art to say to the viewers? I hope my art will speak volumes without end. I would like for these infinite words and ideas to emerge out of great silence and stillness. Through my images, I want the viewers to feel like they are suddenly placed in the immense realm of the cosmos, but rather than feeling lost and overwhelmed, I would like for them to feel found. I want to awaken in them a feeling that makes them feel alive at the core of their being. I want my art to say that everything will be alright in the end and that if it is not alright, then it is not the end. That everything is resolved by love. That life and death are beyond what our eyes and minds perceive it to be. That every beginning has an end and that every end has a beginning. That dreams and imagination are more real than life itself. That life is a continuous journey and discovery and one should relentlessly study and question it. To go deeper and to always look beyond anything at surface value, to follow strong intuition, to be a child, to look for truth, to love, even if that love is not returned, to imagine because the imagination transports you into the realms of infinity, to break the rules, to search for freedom because it is within us and to live each moment as if it were the last - and embrace each one it all in of its entirety.
MICHAEL: Priscilla, this has been fantastic. You are a phenomenal woman.
Check Priscilla out at http://www.ainhoart.com/.