The Malta Independent 22 November 2019, Friday

Returning Home with ‘The two of us’

Tuesday, 23 April 2019, 13:14 Last update: about 8 months ago

Having exhibited works in the UK, Berlin, Croatia, Portugal and Japan, London-based artist Mario Lautier Vella will now be presenting his first solo-exhibition in Malta. The two of us will be shown between 2 and 23 May at the Art Galleries of Palazzo de la Salle in Valletta. It is particularly poignant that Valletta is his father’s hometown. We caught up with him ahead of this landmark event in his career.

What motivated you to pursue a career as an artist?

I grew up in a very creative household with my mother, a talented dressmaker, and my father, a painter-decorator. My grandmother, Mary, who lived with us in London, was also an active amateur artist before she married. My earliest memories are being at home with her; drawing, painting, reading and being shown all sorts of images from beautiful 19th century engravings in her old French catechism and the Stations of the Cross in our local church, as well as watching glitzy gameshows and Disney films on TV. Like so many Maltese households, our home was full of Catholic imagery - all sorts of religious pictures, icons and photos of San Gorg (I was born in Qormi) - so there was always something interesting to look at and learn from.

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My art career, however, resulted from a career change in my 30s. My first degree was in information and graphic design, which led to a career in internet publishing, followed by jobs at a top London radio station as a website editor, music and film journalist. I always loved the visuals associated with music - promo videos, publicity photography and sleeve artwork - but my passion for fine art was there too. I was taking evening art classes, going to exhibitions and spending lunchtimes drawing in the National Gallery to keep my skills fresh. I knew my time in the media couldn't last, though, having survived wave upon wave of redundancies. The work I made on these courses secured me a place on a part-time fine art Masters degree. Soon after graduation I trained as a teacher and began teaching art, while making and exhibiting work on a regular basis. It's certainly been an interesting journey so far.

What inspired your work in the upcoming exhibition 'The two of us'?

My work usually centres on a host of characters, personas and alter-egos, where faces may appear masked or abstracted. This new series of painted portraits explores what happens when we encounter a human face - what we consider, what we can see or think we can see, and how this leads to questions about the sitter's character or personality. As an artist and art teacher, I'm also interested in the physical process of painting and what it is to paint. My practice is experimental in that I make work using a range of methods such as drawing, underpainting and painting techniques.

I'm interested in both classic and contemporary art-making techniques, as well as notions of incomplete, interrupted, inaccurate and damaged work. This brings further meaning to an artwork - how we may second guess who, or what, we can see and question why the artist has responded in this manner, why they have accepted the result or even abandoned the artwork altogether. Ultimately this affects how we view the painting, the person being depicted and the absent artist.

Finally, the Palazzo de la Salle itself has inspired the size of paintings I'm presenting. Each painting is just 15 x 21 cm - a decision and response to working with the Palazzo's vast rooms. These small paintings invite us to get up close and personal or view from a polite, safe distance and relate to ideas around identity, perception, scale and intimacy.

How do you feel about having your work exhibited at Palazzo de la Salle in Valletta?

The two of us is my first solo show in Malta, so, to have it at the Palazzo de la Salle is a big honour and a dream come true. Valletta is one of my favourite cities and I have family ties here, which makes showing my work in our capital feel even more special. As an art teacher and the owner of an art school, I also support the work of the Malta Society of Arts and how they deliver affordable art classes. I attended evening and weekend art courses before returning to university, so I know first-hand how beneficial it is to have the opportunity to study art part-time, both as a student and as a teacher.

Valletta has always been one of my favourite cities in the world, so to have my first Maltese solo exhibition here is really special to me. I was born here but we left for London soon after, yet Malta, being Maltese, and being a Maltese immigrant in the UK, are big influences on my work. I'm really excited about bringing my work home.

'The two of us' - an exhibition by Mario Lautier Vella - will be shown at the Art Galleries, Palazzo de La Salle, Valletta, between 2 to 23 May. Entrance is free


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