Lyndsey Grima catches up with Etienne Farrell, local artist and photographer, to discuss how art can become something that travels with people, and not the other way round.
Words by Lyndsey Grima | Extract taken from June's 2022 Il-Bizzilla Magazine | Read more here
Although humankind has been creative since the dawn of time, I believe that the concept of what is considered art has changed along the centuries. From cavemen scratching minimal drawings of animals onto rocks to today’s innovative and vivid modern artists, although different, art has always been present.
Whether art is beautiful to look at, with the aim of telling a story, and/or created as a gentle nudge or reminder to provoke change, it is simply fascinating how an artist can create a tangible object out of something as intangible as their thoughts. In fact, sometimes, art seems to be the only tool that can act as self-expression.
"I'm a person of a few words", claims Etienne Farrell, local artist and photographer. "I especially dislike fancy talk, casual chit chats and small talk. There are many complex feelings that cannot be expressed through verbal communication. I prefer non-verbal communication. I feel it is more honest…perhaps because it is often overlooked. Art is a tool for self-expression, where much is exposed and presented without voicing anything. It expresses, communicates and records fragments of thoughts, emotions, feelings, memories, beliefs, and stories."
For as long as Etienne can remember, she has always created and drawn, especially at school. “I was unable to concentrate unless I doodled, and I loved making caricatures of my teachers; I often feel the need to detach myself from my surroundings, and art was always a means of escape; be it drawing, sewing, sculpting, writing stories, or playing music.”
Etienne made the shift to dedicate herself totally to creating, five years ago. She explains that this was one of the hardest but best decisions of her life. “For some time, I succumbed to the system’s pressure and focused more on having a 'stable career'. I cannot say that I wasn't happy with my profession. I loved what I did. But too often I used to catch myself grabbing every little opportunity to include art in my job. I don't think that it's a matter of wanting to become an artist; I never could not create.”
Recently, Etienne joined forces with Mark Mallia, another outstanding local artist, and co-incidentally it was through another collaboration of Etienne that the two artists got to know each other. “I enjoy collaborating with different artists and, Mark and I, soon learned that we share so many interests.
“It sometimes feels like I’m having a discussion with my other self. We have worked on several joint and individual projects and exhibitions. Each collaboration is a learning experience, where we foster higher-level thinking through discussions, investigations and research. The end-product is a creation that neither of us would accomplish on our own. It's very interesting to work alongside a creative mind such as Mark's.”
Their recently launched concept, called ‘Use Art’ came about from an idea that re-surfaced when Etienne was reading for an MFA in Digital Arts; the idea of creating art that can accompany its owner, instead of simply sitting pretty on a wall or on a shelf. “I really wanted to do something about it, but I couldn't come up with anything that pulled the right strings. It was years later, during one of my chats with Mark, that we finally thought of something which I really wanted to do.”
The underlying objective is to challenge the idea that art is customarily made to stay put in one place and to be visited: just like the elderly in care homes or animals in a zoo. “I wanted to create art that could visit people and places itself, and not the other way round. Art that is functional and consumable. It is like 'painting' on different 'canvases'; ones which are versatile and mobile. Art owners would not need to invite friends to their homes to show off the latest acquisition. They would carry the work around with them. Portable art that unambiguously portrays who its owner is.”
After many brainstorming sessions, the two artists settled on an underlying theme – the crow. “If you're a fan of Mark Mallia's art, you should definitely adopt one of his crows. It's his spirit animal. His fondness of crows comes with a very interesting story, when, according to him, a crow saved his face when he was working in Windsor, a few years ago. It came natural for us to work around the crow.”
Together with Etienne’s designs and Mark Mallia’s crows, canvases that would accompany their owners were created. Other versatile and mobile pieces also became part of the collection such as a leather satchel, a belt, a wallet, and two necklaces, all done in collaboration with other Maltese artisans.
Etienne greatly values collaboration with other artists. “Each collaboration is a part of a journey of discovery and of overcoming uncertainties, where you learn more about yourself, alongside another creator. Our strength is being constantly eager to learn with an unprejudiced mind and openly sharing ideas, building on each other's energy, and encouraging and pushing each others' limits along the way.”
Etienne concludes: “The need…my need… to create is inherent. It is a need for expression which allows me to question, foster my understanding, and to make sense of the world.”