Connecting art with nature, meet Raphael Mizzi

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With a deep appreciation for nature, history, archaeology, and art, local sculptor Raphael Mizzi invites us to explore his spectacular world of beach clay sculptures.

Words by Christine Cassar | Extract taken from August's 2023 Il-Bizzilla Magazine

Raphael’s venture into the arts began in 2012 when he enrolled in a sculpting course at the Malta School of Arts, focusing on working with stone. This ignited his passion for sculpting, and since then, he has constantly been seeking new avenues of creative expression.

And on this note, Raphael recalls the year 2019—that moment in time when he discovered his love for beach art. “I yearned for a natural setting where I could work with clay and create sculptures, and Għajn Tuffieħa Bay became the perfect choice. This picturesque location has become one of my favourite spots, providing me with accessible clay and a serene space to bring my artistic visions to life.”

The sculptor’s main sources of inspiration come from nature, with its everchanging landscapes and intricate details, as well as Europe’s rich history and archaeology. Further to this, Raphael is inspired by the works of some of the greatest artists in the history of art, particularly Michelangelo. “His mastery of sculpting and his ability to evoke emotions through his art resonates deeply with me. Drawing inspiration from his techniques and creative approaches, I strive to infuse my own unique voice and perspective into my sculptures.”

With this in mind, Raphael discusses how he often finds himself drawn to figurative forms and the inherent beauty found in natural materials. He explains that while examining the unique characteristics of each medium—be it stone, clay, or other materials—he unearths unexpected shapes and textures that guide his artistic vision.

Moving on to the process of creating a beach clay sculpture, Raphael experiments with a plethora of methods and techniques. “To begin, I gather grains of clay from the beach, which serve as the primary medium for my sculptures. The clay's natural texture and malleability allow me to mould and shape it according to my desired forms.”

Alongside the clay, Raphael incorporates other natural elements found on the beach, such as driftwood to support the structure, as well as grass which acts as a filler to reduce the amount of clay. By combining all these resources together, Raphael ultimately creates unique and evocative artworks that resonate with the coastal landscape.

In general, Raphael explains that the whole creation process involves a combination of hand-building and sculpting techniques. “I use my hands and simple tools to manipulate the clay, gradually building up the form and refining the details. This hands-on approach allows me to directly connect with the materials and infuse my sculptures with a sense of authenticity and spontaneity.”

Given that these beach clay sculptures are temporary installations located in outdoor settings, Raphael believes that this instils a deeper connection between art and nature. As he puts it, “These sculptures are influenced by the waves and weather conditions, which gradually transform over time, reflecting the dynamic nature of the beach and its everchanging beauty.”

Needless to say, every beach clay sculpture that Raphael created stands out in its own way. He mentions his rendition of the Head of David by Michelangelo—a piece that is a true celebration of Michaelangelo’s iconic sculpture. “Using clay sourced from the beach, I carefully sculpted the facial features to capture the intensity and timeless beauty of the original masterpiece.”

Raphael has recently completed yet another masterpiece. Whilst viewers stand in awe of his interpretation of the Mediterranean monk seal—also known as Il-Bumerin in Maltese, Raphael explains that this sculpture serves a significant purpose beyond its artistic appeal.

“With Il-Bumerin, I wanted to convey a message and raise awareness about the critical situation faced by the Mediterranean monk seal. This species is currently at risk of extinction in the Mediterranean, and it is essential to bring attention to its plight. Moreover, the sculpture carries a historical significance specific to Malta. I wanted to remind people that the Mediterranean monk seal once called Malta home. I would be thrilled to see the monk seal return to our shores.”

By using art as a medium for this message, Raphael believes that he can make his mark on the world. “Ultimately, my goal is to create art that captivates and engages viewers, provoking a sense of wonder and connection to the world around us. Through my artistic endeavours, I hope to convey the beauty and complexity of nature while offering a glimpse into my own personal journey of exploration and self-expression.”