above - Summer Storm - Henry Falzon - Agfa APX100 b&W film 35mm shot on Minolta - 1996
From time to time, I’m asked ‘’how much use of technology do I make, if I use a drone, if I use Photoshop, I’m asked if I cheat with technology, how much do I slave away at digital photos..’’
As a self-thought artist, I never attended any one hour of professional artistic training. I never felt the need. I was always comfortable on my own, sketching, thinking, and more importantly trying and trying again. It’s a tough path that may not suit an aspiring artist, but this is my experience. I later realised that my lack of formal training had actually liberated me from many inhibitions and artist Bushido Codes that fester at art schools, on how to conduct oneself, what tools to rely on and the many imaginary taboo areas that one cannot venture into for fear of ruin and ill-repute…. What a bunch of nonsense...
My first serious foray into fine art started with technology - I took up Black & White film photography in the 90s despite my childhood being filled up with sketches and doodles. I rigged my own darkroom, bought a few books and soon I was printing my photographs images. I loved it!! It was such an eye-opener. I honed my creative skills - composition, image foraging, tones, colour, narratives, visual attitudes, and many more artistic parameters. Photography is far more difficult to do successfully than painting (do not confuse fine art photography with snapshot taking - it’s like comparing fine dining with a burger joint). You can probably name a long list of famous canvas artists, but how many famous photographers can you recite?
By the 2000s film was elbowed out by digital and I switched to digital thinking it was the future. But I was disillusioned with digital colour. Colour photography hurt my existing artistic projection. I stopped the photography and I took to traditional oils and pastels.
The decade of the 00s was spent in total isolation getting used to or rather grappling with, drawing, mixing colour and using pastels. A kick in the teeth. It was a bit of a lost decade, or so I thought then. I was already onto something with photography and now I was back to my own stone age...
Roll on another decade and it was time to go out on en Plein air painting. It was the business of going out religiously every Saturday morning and painting on location. Like with film photography, Plein Air work honed and tuned my skills and thought me and shaped me like nothing else. The challenge to do a painting in one sitting (two hours max) was tough and sometimes brutal, but boy we did have fun and what an experience!
Inevitably, however, the en Plein air system of work leads to a rather serious manual of do’s and don’ts. Another Bushido Code of conduct… I grew a bit disillusioned because the yearning for studio work, with its total freedom, was rearing its head.
The slip into studio work was gradual starting from the mid/late epoch of the Plein air days and I was 90% studio by 2017. In my studio, the only living interference I have are my cats, who never object to my initiatives.
Suddenly I had this idea that altered my artistic path - I was to go back to my first love - my photography, and artistically extract my camera images, change them and improve them and redraw them - make them my own. I was to infuse my vision, my colours, my dreams and my outlook. I often make stories in my pastels from very much 'dead' reference images I take with my mobile phone.
Suddenly everything locked in together, the jig-saw puzzle fell in place. Photography, digital media, Photoshop, traditional mediums, drawing, image foraging, the Plein air years - it all converged into one robust credo. I allowed myself to use any type of tool under the sun, but only at the planning stage. This exploration stage precedes the actual painting. Anything goes at this stage including good old sketches, so it’s not just digital. I often extract references from two or more different images, I use software, filters, my own drone, and anything that I fancy to help me achieve my vision. Once happy with the concept, I proceed to draw with my pastels all in the good old way by hand. I want my canvas to bear my hand as I want to control all the strokes of colour I apple to every millimetre.
Of course, my art journey keeps unfolding and I might be doing different stuff next year, who knows. I would like to keep abreast with everything, including collaborations with other artists and using new technology to capture exciting views of life that are now not yet possible to clinch. I have also started printmaking which is very exciting and is opening new doors.
I promise to keep evolving and stay fresh to the challenges that lay ahead of me.