Antony Micallef, the elusive and enigmatic young British artist has announced a rare solo exhibition in London this month.
Hailed as “one of the most promising young artists working in Britain today” by Sotheby’s – who are we to argue with the big cheese – Micallef’s art is a form of social commentary. The artist has largely shied away from the limelight, despite having the top collectors and the A-list Hollywood crowd (Brangelina) after his work. Depicting his controversial, contemporary and very relevant views on today’s world, Micallef explores the dark side of the human condition, delving into consumerism, capitalism, war and pop culture. ‘Happy, Deep Inside My Heart’ is his first solo exhibition, and will be shown this September at Lazarides Gallery, London. Fusing polar opposites for a thought-provoking, guilty-pleasure-type of enjoyment, the show mixes destruction and divinity, seduction and repulsion, confusion and enlightenment, high art and street art. i-D online caught up with the artist to talk about the politics of art and the sinister side of pink.
How did you first get into art? Drawing and painting was the only thing I ever really enjoyed as a young kid. I think as a child you latch onto the things you feel you’re good at and they give you confidence. While studying art I was always sending off work to galleries - I used to have a pile of rejection letters, after a while you just come to expect that. It kind of makes you bullet proof. I got to the point where I always expected a rejection and I told myself if anything happens it’s a bonus. That’s how you have to look at it in the early days. I did two jobs for 5 years while trying to paint at the same time. You just have to believe in what you’re doing… that’s the one simple main ingredient. It eventually pays off. My personal turning point was coming second in a major competition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. I then had people approaching me for a change… that was a nice feeling!
What are the driving forces/thoughts/sentiments behind your work? I guess it’s an amalgamation of different things. Drawing and mark making is the backbone of everything I do. This acts as the main structure and from this you can mould and shape your ideas on top. A lot of my images are born from previous paintings that haven’t worked. It’s about layering, erasing and then building on top. I always thought painting was like a dialogue… a conversation. It’s about bringing different ideas together and contrasting styles and themes until something locks and it begins to become coherent.
What is your style? Is it all about polar opposites? My style I guess is about contrasting imagery. Whether that would be within the subject matter or physically with paint. Apart from the black and white work I do I try to layer different styles of painting together, like a cocktail. I just feel this makes it more interesting to view and more fun to paint. I try to bleed things into each other and it’s the chemistry of putting two images together that wouldn’t necessarily match that I find interesting.
Do any other artists inspire you/your work? I’m mostly influenced by photographers. Influences change week by week and I think it’s important to try and digest as much as possible. Art is a little bit like cooking, you’re constantly stirring ideas around in a big pot and stewing and mixing things in. It’s important to go and look at things. I keep coming back to photographers such as Irving Penn, Helmut Newton and Araki. I look at a lot of their work for composition ideas and I like the sentiments they convey.
There are strong themes of anti-capitalism, anti-war and anti-consumerism in your work. Would you call yourself a political artist? No I wouldn’t because I don’t think the label describes my work very well. For me there are a lot of other ingredients and components which make the work feel complete. It’s about painting, movement, colour, the human condition and behavior to an extent. I see it as having lots of different elements but somehow it’s been shoved through a meat grinder. The result is a shiny rancid spew of many mangled ideas, forms and beings. Of course I have political opinions and impressions of these do seep into the work but I think my work is too self obsessed to be seen as making a coherent stand against something. I’m too guilty of the things I paint about to proudly say I’m a political artist.
Tell us about the show ‘Happy Deep Inside My Heart’… I wanted to use more colour for this show and to try and fuse elements of what I have learnt in the past into one body of work. As an artist you are always learning; there is never one point where you have reached the final destination. In terms of subject matter I wanted to play with and revisit similar themes but up the contrast and saturate the emotion more until it felt uncomfortable.
There’s a lot of cute pink and primary colours in the show. All these saturated colours are like the colours of your TV set. I want the viewer to think are they too bright! They grab your attention and make you think, ‘Oh, this is beautiful, what’s this?’ and suddenly you’re inside a different, darker place. The aim is to use colour as a decoy to invite the viewer in, to ambush their senses, to give that inner world a sugarcoated, cracked-sweet veneer, hiding the distortion and decay… that’s the idea anyway.
‘Happy, Deep Inside My Heart’ at the Lazarides Gallery, London from the 8th September – 22nd October.
Text: Felicity Carter