The young painter Dustin Cauchi, who will be launching an exhibition entitled Ix-U Jien at the Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta on April 18, speaks to Teodor Reljic about his development as an artist. Photography by Kari McKay
For how long had you been interested in painting and how would you say your approach to painting has developed to what it is now?
I had been fascinated with art since I was a child. I actually remember my first ever trip to the National Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta, on a school visit during my primary school years. I even remember being fascinated by Arte Sacra - paintings and sculptures in churches. Over the years a naive need for expression developed into a more technical - and structured - approach to my work. I believe an artist is free when he constructs a structure in which to work in: freedom is not chaos. Only through technique can an artist find total freedom. This fact has become quite obvious for me today and I think it’s true of all art forms: a musician practices on his instrument for hours a day, the performer works on his body for hours a day. When it comes to the artist (and I’m using the word ‘artist’ in this context to keep things simple), he must also master his body through technique, and must adopt a scientific approach to understand his medium better. For me art is born in the perfect balance between vision and technique.
You are a theatre studies and philosophy student. Have you deliberately chosen to express yourself in a medium that is external to your studies? How do your areas of study seep into your work, if they do?
I believe that philosophy has been very important to my artistic formation, as well as on a personal level. I think it is a pity that philosophy is not a compulsory subject, not only at University level, but even at primary levels of education. When it comes to theatre studies, I do believe that the painter has a lot to learn from the theatre-maker and the performer. I would love to have an opportunity to marry the two disciplines in the future. I believe that the act of painting has never been properly studied in the light of performance, after Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein. Now back to the question, yes, I do believe that my studies inform my work, and vice versa, I think it is inevitable.
Is there any particular mood that you hope to transmit in the paintings that will feature in this exhibition?
Well, I can’t say that there is a particular mood that I would like to transmit. This is a question which is very difficult to answer. So I will make it easier and talk about the process involved in this work. The 18 or so paintings which I will be exhibiting, are a document of two years of experimentation. During these last two years, I was looking at the possibilities, and limitations of painting. This work is born out of a need for questioning the act of painting, and as a result of this, questioning being per se. The work investigates this relationship between being and non-being. It only furnishes questions. I felt that in this context, language was an inappropriate tool, so funnily enough; I can say that I am exhibiting hanging questions, dressed up as paintings.
What is your opinion of the Maltese art scene and how do you hope to be perceived within a local context?
Here in Malta, on an individual level, there are very interesting contemporary artists which I respect, and am inspired by; like Caesar Attard and Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci. There are also other interesting contemporary artists that belong to a younger generation like Maria Bonnici. However on a collective level, there is no true strength. I believe that there is a need for a movement here in Malta. This is something that has happened here before both in art and literature and its beneficial effects are still felt today. Another important thing is educating the masses, through direct contact with art. We have to eliminate this idea of art as a bourgeois pastime. Art needs to be handed back to the masses. When it comes to the government, I think that an extra effort needs to be made in order to help and promote Maltese artists. I think that last year’s Caravaggio attributions exhibition, which cost a lot of money, and which reached its peak in the Malta Song for Europe Festival (with Claudia Faniello’s Caravaggio), was a perfect example of promoting these bourgeois events. Why didn’t the Ministry save that amount of money for promoting great Maltese Artists, like Josef Kalleya, Antoine Camilleri, Frank Portelli, Emvin Cremona, Willie Apap, Carmenu Mangion, and Antonio Sciortino to name just a few? By saying this I am leaving out academic lectures and publications, which are also very important, but do not address the masses, and are reserved to the very few. Why are we wasting time on someone else’s heritage, when we have treasures which are not yet discovered by the Maltese masses? Now back to the second part of your question: I don’t want to be perceived, I want to be.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to take the opportunity to thank Dennis Vella, the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, at the National Museum of Fine Arts, for his constant help and Support.
The exhibition opening will coincide with the launch of Francesca Mangion’s book - which features illustrations by Cauchi and problematises the idea of a finalized work of art, both in literature and painting.
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