ARTZ ID speaks with artist Anna Calleja about her recent body of work which is currently on show in the exhibition ‘Homebound’ at the Malta Society of Arts, Valletta. The work, its theme, and the exhibition coincided with many unforeseens brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak, imbuing the work with added relevance and significance.
‘Homebound’ is a response to the confinement required in the wake of the pandemic. How did the lockdown environment, on a psychological and physical level, influence the creation of these works?
I actually started this body of work long before the pandemic. I have been interested in dualities of comfort/melancholy and nostalgia/uncertainty for a while and I began to use the domestic space as a stage to play out ideas; to channel my ideas, feelings and anxieties. I draw on my own notions of comfort to confront an anxious present and an uncertain future. The home is both a place of safety and also of vulnerability and melancholy. It is a place of curated identity, taste and is loaded with personal history. The pandemic layered the work with new meaning as suddenly everyone has to reassess their domestic life, as the home became both a haven and cage at once. After living in Cornwall for 3 years, I returned to Malta on a homebound flight in March last year. The title of the exhibition, ‘Homebound’ reflects upon this, but also holds a dual meaning. It is a return to home but also being confined to home.
Unfortunately, the pandemic is affecting everyone, myself included. I was in my final year of a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art at Falmouth University when the cases started to rise in the UK. In 2020, our degree show and the exhibitions I was to participate in were cancelled, and I moved back to Malta. Whilst some opportunities fell through, I applied to open calls that arose due to the pandemic. These included Newlyn Art Gallery’s ‘Extraordinary Postcards in Extraordinary Times’ exhibition where I exhibited four paintings and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters where I exhibited, ‘Alone in Quarantine’, at the Mall Galleries in London. The pandemic has charged my work with a new layer of meaning that I couldn’t have anticipated. The use of the domestic space within my practice has become a lot more relevant. I do find that I have been pushed to adapt and be creative in new ways to keep making work. I have also had more time in the studio than I would have had otherwise.
How would you describe your work?
My practice is quite intuitive. The work is autobiographical and personal but also tackles universal themes. I would say it could be described as my personal internal reaction to the outside external world.
Your style is very much intuitive, delicate yet bold. What informs your aesthetic choices?
The work is autobiographical, I paint those I care about and objects that have a layered meaning to me, the aesthetic decisions in the work are a blend of my personal taste, and also the colours around my home, friends and family. I also draw influence from various artists throughout history and the contemporary art scene; Giotto, Vermeer, Vuillard, Singer Sargent, Gwen John, Anni Albers, Rachel Whiteread and Andrew Cranston to name a few.
What is one piece of advice you wish you’d known (and applied) earlier?
One piece of advice that I’ve read that has really helped me is ‘Inspiration is the reward for hard work’. I think it’s helpful to remember not to get frustrated with creative blocks and unsuccessful work, it’s all part of the process!
Where is your work headed?
I think the past year has really accentuated how uncertain the future is, I really don’t know where the work is heading but I am taking things 6 months at a time!