CELIA BORG CARDONA’s ongoing retrospective exhibition organised as part of Bank of Valletta’s Retrospective series of exhibitions is an emotional affair between the artist and her landscapes. The exhibition opening was also an emotional one….CORPORATE DISPATCH managed to catch up with Celia for another insightful interview for our “Over a Coffee……” series.
During the exhibition inauguration, it was highlighted that you found your artistic calling ‘late’ in life. What triggered it and why do you think it didn’t happen before?
In my time, at school, we had to choose between science subjects and the arts (which included art). I never ever dreamed that I would make a career in art and so chose the sciences and eventually graduated in Pharmacy from university. But there must have been something festering in the background because when I finally did take up painting in my thirties, I did it with a vengeance. Looking back, it probably helps to be a bit more mature and have experienced life a bit.
How did you feel when you were proposed this retrospective exhibition?
My first reaction was ‘Ooh! I’m getting old. Retrospectives are usually for artists at the tail end of their careers. But then I felt very flattered and honoured that I had been chosen as the next artist in the long line of distinguished artists that Bank of Valletta have featured annually for the last twenty years.
The exhibition opening caused a bit of a stir and emotions were running high. If you could put some of those feelings in a few words that would be amazing….
The exhibition opening was a lovely evening with many people enjoying art, good food and wine. The exhibition was inaugurated by The President of Malta, Dr George Vella and there were speeches by Bank of Valletta Chairman Deo Scerri and Francesca Balzan, the curator of the exhibition.
Accompanying the exhibition, a comprehensive catalogue has also been published. This also includes a biography of me with photos from various periods of my life. One of these was of Daphne Caruana Galizia at my first solo exhibition. Daphne was a friend of mine and her assassination was, and is, a life changing traumatic event for me. Bank of Valletta did not allow this photo to be printed in the book. I could not imagine erasing her very image from public display. It would be like killing her over again. And so, I wore a t-shirt with the photo printed on it for the opening. Francesca spoke about censorship in her speech and we dedicated the exhibition to her memory.
In a retrospective, there would be too many works that you’d really want to show but the limitations are what they are. Which paintings are you happy with the most that they made it to this show?
When they had first approached me, the BOV arts committee asked me to nominate a curator and I, of course, chose Francesca Balzan. Francesca and I have been friends for a long time, and she has been involved with every exhibition I’ve ever had, and I trust her professional judgement implicitly. The choice of paintings is hers. There are some I maybe wouldn’t have chosen and maybe another couple I would have added but this is her exhibition of my works and I left it at that. That’s what curators are for. I think artists are too involved with their works to be able to see the bigger picture that an exhibition itself actually is. I think she’s done a terrific job within the constraints imposed by site and budget.
How would you describe being an artist and living the call of being an artist?
I think it is the most wonderful thing when your ‘work’ is actually what you would do for pleasure. I actually miss painting when I’m away on holiday! Some people say, ‘it must be so relaxing’. It isn’t. It can be quite tension-making and very often I catch myself gritting my teeth when painting. But creating something ‘new’ possibly out of something mundane is fabulous.
To what extent have you let your life experience show through the works over the years?
Once you learn the techniques of making art and you can paint more or less whatever you want to, you come to realise that you actually possess quite a powerful tool. A ‘language’ with which you can communicate in very strong visual ways. In the book there’s a painting called Them New Religion’. I revisited a previous painting of a procession. This time the people are following a pile of money instead of the religious statue. There are a couple of paintings in the exhibition relating to Daphne Caruana Galizia. One is a drone view of the memorial. The other is of an empty blog page juxta positioned with the dwejra cliffs without the window, which I called ‘gone’.
You said that a retrospective exhibition ‘felt weird’. Were you scared of anything in particular as you prepared for this show?
When all the paintings were all laid out it felt unlike any other exhibition I had had before. Usually there’s a unifying thread that goes through the works. But here was a disparate group of paintings from different times, different styles, different subjects. The only connection was me. So, it felt ‘weird’ to me but that is the nature of a retrospective. Once they were hung and lit, it all came together and the response to the exhibition has been fantastic.
An exhibition is always an opportunity for an artist to say something. What was the thing that you mostly wanted to shout out about in this show?
A retrospective is a bit of a cacophony of all the shouting I’ve been doing over the years. I hope something worthwhile can be heard, or rather, seen, through the noise.
What makes an artwork special in your opinion?
My test for an artwork to be special is “do I want to keep seeing it after the initial time?” And “do I see something new every time I do?”
Some quickfire questions: –
A place that always inspired you to paint it.
There’s a great view of the Cittadella from the flat we have in Gozo. Every time I see it, I want to paint it and yet I only have done so a couple of times. Don’t know why. Maybe because it’s so beautiful.
A painting you wished you painted yourself
At the moment Anselm Kiefer is my hero. Oh, how I wish I could have painted one of his large textured landscapes like the 5 and a half metre long ‘Bohemia lies by the Sea’ at the Met.
A song that moves you
I love Opera. Delibes’ flower duet from Lakmé never fails.
A dish that makes you really hungry.
I could really dig into a good homemade Ross fil-forn right now
Your favourite trip abroad
It has to be London. I’ve lived there for various lengths of time, so it doesn’t feel very ‘abroad’ but I never get fed up going as there’s always so much going on. I feel alive there.
Do you take coffee? How do you prefer it?
Till recently I was a confirmed coffee addict, but I’ve reformed and only have one or two a day now. I take it strong, black and without sugar!
Over a Coffee is prepared by James Vella Clark – Corporate Identities