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James Vella Clark - 20 Questions Interview 2007   Print  E-mail 
Submitted by Artissa Administrator  
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James Vella ClarkThree years ago, we interviewed James Vella Clark as one of the first pieces to be published on Artissa. James has grown to be a much more established artist since then, and has generously agreed to a follow-up interview in which he reveals what he has gone through during these past years. Definitely well worth the read!

The interview has been split into two parts for easier reading. Feedback is very welcome as always. Contact us by email and give us your views and comments.

08MistonImtahleb1. It has now been almost 3 years since our first interview. It is clear that your career has made stunning progress during this period. What do you feel has changed mostly during these years?

I always avoid referring to my art as having given me a ‘career’. Being an artist is not a career – everyone sees the world with his own eyes – an artist is one who has the ability and is open enough to interpret his world in the context of where he lives but more importantly, is then willing to share his interpretations with those around him. ‘Stunning’ is also a word I’d like to stay away from too! I will just say that my artistic journey has kept evolving with the pace with which it was meant to evolve. During these past few years, I have changed mostly in the way I treat my art and in the way people perceive my work. I am constantly re-assessing my artistic expression even more than before and seeking news ways how to interpret myself and all that has a direct impact on me.

My art has also become more personal. I have moved on from the mere portrayal of my surroundings as just renditions of different places. I have learnt to bring out my own emotions and experience by using the landscape as a pretext. The landscape has therefore become secondary whereby the self has taken over as the primary subject.

2. You have had a number of foreign experiences during these years. What is it that you have learnt and treasure most through these experiences?

These past three years have seen me hosting my first exhibitions abroad namely in Germany, the Netherlands and in Melbourne, Australia. These three exhibitions have given me the opportunity to taste what it means going out there and showing your work to a completely new audience who has no idea who you are and what you do. I’ve learnt that hosting an exhibition abroad can be a very arduous task. Preparing all the logistical support can be so hectic that one might easily end up forgetting the real scope of exhibiting abroad – that of taking your art to new audiences and to learn from their interpretations – and you spend most of the time handling things that are best taken care of by others!

I have also learnt that in Malta, things are indeed very easy. You can become relatively known even with little promotion for your exhibition and that many people, due to our insularity and the fact CypressTreesinWind(detail3)that they might know you, just comment positively in order to leave a good impression. Abroad, appreciation comes hard. If your work is not liked, you see it in their eyes. It cuts like a knife. And competition is so hard too. You go out there and notwithstanding the positive feeling and confidence you might have, you only find out you are just a small fish in a big ocean of artists. Art is very commercialised too but then, so many are the artists who have made their art their primary source of income. So naturally, competition is much stronger.

The thing I treasure most however remains the satisfaction of having taken my art beyond our shores. I stopped regarding this as a means of promoting my country. The country and those who run it seem to think they know much better how to promote it. So I just cherish the satisfaction of having been capable of putting up three successful shows abroad on my own initiative and that I have managed to show my work to an audience that has always shown itself positively receptive towards my art. Of course I also cherish the new friendships I have made in the process.

3. What is it, on the other hand, that you disliked most throughout these experiences away from our shores?

The thing that I disliked most was the fact that I was alone. I actually did feel alone. Here in Malta, you have friends, colleagues and clients looking forward to your exhibition. Half the anticipation comes from their eagerness to see your work. Abroad, everyone and everything is alien. It’s like you’re going to an oral exam where no one will sympathise with you but they’ll just see your work and if they’re bothered enough, they will pass the formal and occasional ‘well done’. But then, whenever positive comments came my way, I gave these much more weight.

4. When three years ago you looked into the future, to the present day, you certainly had a picture of yourself as you would be. What strikes you as the most and least similar aspects of that picture to the reality of today?

Three years ago I had stated that my next achievement had to be exhibiting abroad. And that actually happened three times. Stylistically, I knew my style would change too – I know I will never settle into just one style no matter how popular and ‘in demand’ that style would be. My style has in fact changed a lot not only in terms of approach but also in terms of the subjects treated. I’m sure this is going to keep changing in the years to come but in this regard, I prefer taking it as it comes. You don’t plan a style – things just happen and that’s the beauty of it all.

5. Different periods in your life without doubt have affected your art – It is evident from your latest works. In which ways do these periods, your moods, and your state of mind in general reflect in your art?

09TheGorgeMy art has become very human. But I’m not concerned with the humanity of others. I am only concerned with my own personal humanity and conveying aspects of it. Therefore it is only natural for my art to reflect what I would be going through.

Personally, over the past year and a half, I have gone through a very strong and intense period in my life and this has had a profound effect on my artistic output. My art has therefore become even more personal where I don’t just paint skylines or villages anymore – and wherever they happen to prevail, these are just a pretext – an extension of the self and of what I go through because of my humanity.

As a result of this, my art has also taken a decisive step towards abstraction – a term I’m never really fond of using since I don’t really believe in the term ‘abstract’. True that my landscapes have become less defined but they still carry small hints that help the viewer connect to the painting. The rest will be just an extension of the self in a purely chromatic and structured composition – a product of my very various moods.

Many have commented about the subdued colours that are now prevailing in most of my more recent works, especially the use of blacks, whites and greys. This is part of the process of my evolution as an artist but also in line with the experiences that are moulding me both as an artist, and as a person. Subdued colours do not effectively represent a negative trait but are more an opportunity to seek beauty where one least expects it. This concept runs parallel with that of growing up and evolving into better persons from our failures as human beings.

All this will in fact be the underlying concept behind my forthcoming exhibition this coming November at St James Cavalier - the result of two years’ work.

6. Even though your work has evolved during these years, it still retains a “signature” style which identifies you in most of your artwork. Do you feel that you have found your style, are you still looking, or do you think an artist never stops seeking and evolving?

My signature style remains the spontaneity with which I express myself that best reflects by emotions – as well as the passion which I seek to transmit through my works. These are the two main traits that best single out my work from that of other artists. I am not meticulous and I leave detail to those who appreciate it more. I am only concerned with conveying my humanity – as personal, raw and abandoned as I feel it is - the very basic things that make me who I am. As long as people see these qualities in my work, I feel fulfilled.

Notwithstanding this, I will never commit to saying that I have found my style. As I have always stated in past interviews, I see mine as a journey whereby changing circumstances in my life make up the messages I’d want to convey and consequently effect the way I express myself. In this regard, I am a firm believer that an artist must embrace all that comes his way even if that would mean seeing his style change. An artist must embrace the pain that comes along with the change in style and approach – changes that just happen and that can be the source of a lot of anguish and painful insecurity. I see other artists resisting this change for fear of losing their established identity amongst their respective publics to the detriment of their continuous growth and evolvement as artists.

I do go through such painful phases too, the harshest one having happened earlier this year. Though not completely over, it has been a period of serious doubts and frustrations, questioning and insecurity. I have never gone through such a difficult time in my artistic years as much as I have this year. I really don’t wish anyone to go through what I am going through but if I may dare see a positive streak in this, I say that though such phases are far from pleasant, they can then bounce back and turn out into the biggest sources of personal and artistic development. So no – an artist will never stop evolving unless he resists it.

7. Many comment that in Malta we always lag behind the rest of the world in various fields, and art is one of them. What is your view and opinion of Maltese art (and artists) vis-à-vis the international scene?

Each and every country is continuously lagging behind the rest of the world. Art in a country reflects the identity of that country. What happens in Italy, the UK or in the States vis-à-vis the arts reflects that particular society so one cannot really say that Malta lags behind everyone else! But it’s true that it is very hard (though not impossible) for our art to compare to that of abroad. Our insularity, the mediocre size of our community and the lack of proper infrastructure are the three main factors that bar further development of art in Malta.

In Malta we are plagued with this complex – that everything and everyone is better than us. That whatever happens abroad must be good and whatever happens here is not. So we just try and import what we see happening abroad and we set our standards accordingly.

The fact that we have exhibitions practically every week does not mean we are a thriving artistic country either. People are lazy – they don’t want to think. They can’t be bothered to be engaged by a painting and to think what lies beyond a few brushstrokes or an erect ceramic structure for all that matters! The public just wants pretty pictures and that’s it. And with such an audience, you cannot possibly expect a country, or the arts, to thrive.

In my opinion, local artists have to do a double effort to assert and prove themselves. Their art has to be double challenging, double engaging and has to stimulate double the amount of questions.

There are those few individuals who want to be seen as artists and even though they can draw and paint, deep down they just want to assert themselves and this will then show in what they produce. In other areas such as installation art, I take off my hat to START – they are a group of artists who are seriously trying to pose questions and convey messages in a new and unorthodox way thus making their art more challenging and engaging. I am also impressed by a few new comers. Yes. They also are very inspring.

ItHurtsBeautifully8. What is it, if anything, that Maltese artists (in general) lack when compared to foreign artists?

From my contact with foreign artists, I have noted their open approach with the public. They are never afraid to open up, to discuss the concepts behind their works, to challenge and put across statements in order to engage their publics.

In Malta, many artists are only good to socialise together but other than that, few are willing to come together and challenge and dissect each other’s works. They are over-protective of their art and this never helps the exchange of ideas and experiences.

Another aspect I note is that from the exhibitions I do manage to view on a regular basis, few are those artists willing to move on and develop themselves. Many seem afraid of letting go of what they have been doing for the past years for fear of losing popularity amongst their public or for reasons that I would define purely commercial.

9. What is it that Malta, as a country, lacks, in terms of infrastructure, initiatives, and other aspects, when compared to other countries which are renowned for their prolific art scenes, such as Italy and the UK?

I have cut off myself from the general artistic circle, so I am not very aware of the educational initiatives that might be in place at this point in time. With regards to infrastructure, I still believe that we are still very limited when it comes to exhibition spaces where we have to rely on very few venues.

The Fine Arts Museum, which ideally has to be the main venue for exhibiting is in dire need of a major refurbishing project. St James Cavalier is equipped with a very attractive main hall but then, the upper galleries are not yet suitably lit for exhibitions. Heritage Malta is another good space which is fast gaining popularity but other then these three venues, artists have to find alternative places such as private galleries or commercial establishments or institutions.

Government funding towards the visual arts is very limited and the policy for the allocation of funds is virtually inexistent. In Malta, art is still considered amongst the ‘secondary subjects’ practically across the educational spectrum. Attempts for proper dialogue amongst artists have never really taken off and the only collaboration between artists is still pretty much social and amateurish.

10. Do you think collective exhibitions provide a tangible value to the art scene and the artists that participate, and what are the factors that prompt you to participate in a collective exhibition?

In Malta, most collective exhibitions happen for a reason beyond that of promoting the actual contemporary art scene. Collective shows are mainly regarded as a fast way of generating funds for specific causes, be they philanthropic or social in nature. Most artists consider collective projects mainly as another opportunity for them to be seen by the public and for doing their part in favour of a good cause. This makes artists submit their ‘second grade’ works or else pieces that would have remained unsold in previous exhibitions to the detriment of the level of the collective exhibition. Suffice to say, this could also have a negative impact on the public’s perception of the respective artists.

Collective exhibitions should be nothing else other than an opportunity for the public and for all those involved in the arts scene to have a clear cut picture of the current situation of the local art scene in general at that point in time. Artists have to treat these collective shows with a much more cautious approach and bear in mind that the work they submit will be representative of the highest level they have reached at that particular point in their journey.

From the Gallery

Untitled #1

Untitled #1

From: Gordon Pace Flores

OC005 - Oliver Cloke - New York Boots

OC005 - Oliver Cloke - New York Boots (SOLD)

From: Artissa Gallery N to Z

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