Interview: Local Artist Ryan Mizzi
Oh My Malta sits down with local artist Ryan Mizzi, to get a peek at his latest work and hear about his unique creative process
Can you give us some info about yourself? What is your artistic background?
In a faraway land away from art, I’m an accountant by profession working within the deal advisory services space. I am perhaps more of an artist ‘by night’ as the corporate finance world keeps me rather busy. Insofar as I can remember however art has always been a passion of mine. Whilst I consider myself predominately self-taught, as a young boy I was coached by Carmel Bonello, who happened to live close to my family home in Mellieha. At a very young age I used to tag along with Carmel and a group of fellow artists and paint scenes on site and in-studio sessions.
Do you work in a studio? Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
Most pieces are created in my home studio. I call it a studio – at times it’s more akin to a study, an exhibition room or a workshop, depending on the time of year!
In terms of process, I tend to be rather self-critical of my works and often a time cover up older canvases with new subject matters sometimes retaining elements or colors of the original artwork in the new piece. Recently as a result of the pandemic I temporarily ran out of supplies and covered up a sizable 1.2metre mermaid with Valletta skyline (Picture included) – one may notice a fish tail submerged in water at the bottommost part of the piece!
I draw a lot of inspiration from real life, film, music and literature, tattoos even. Sometimes, even surfaces inspire ideas. My current muse is finding unique, old items and giving them a new life. Recently, I fell in love with an old wooden serving tray from World War II in an abandoned house in my hometown my father purchased. I found it tucked away in one of the back rooms looking sad and something inside me had to take it home – I fell in love with it. Lobsters are known to fall in love and mate for life and this sea creature became the subject of this piece. Childish and borderline playful, like love it has a cracks, dents and layers of history.
I tend to experiment with medium – from conventional artist grade paints, to construction supplies to painting with cosmetics…
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
As with most artists and art-lovers alike, from an early age I ogled at the work of old masters. To this day I keep an eye open for books about artworks to bolster my collection and suss out ideas however I would say most of the time I get my inspo from following other the works of fellow artists on social media platforms. I do follow the works of a number of international artists – both professional and amateur. At the moment I’m quite intrigued by the works of Jack Ede, Andrew Cadima (I own original works of both) and the hyperrealism of Mike Dargas. I also find Jon Moody’s work quite amusing and particularly fond of Alpay Efe’s style. From a local perspective I find Tina Mifsud’s style rather fascinating. Interestingly I’m also keen on street art and follow the work of Banksy and Odeith.
Although I do think subconsciously I am influenced by the works of others, I try as best as possible remain nonchalant in style and subject. Admittedly, I admire hyperrealism but I’m conscious I will probably never have the patience nor willingness (and possibly the ability) to go down that route. At times I do look at pieces from another artist and wonder how I would have executed the same subject.
Truth be told I want to continue exploring – in fact whereas some of my work is expressive and bold, I do more traditional pieces and on occasion fancy that childish take on an animal form or similar subject matter.
What themes do you pursue? What visual references do you draw upon in your work?
I love working with all mediums and different surfaces including paper, canvas and wood. My styles vary from landscapes, seascapes and streetscapes, to portraits, nudes and quirky subject matters. I paint from life, from memory and from photo references. The latter I generally limit to specific commissions.
What’s your favourite piece of your own artwork?
I would probably never pin down an all-time favorite piece but at the moment this would be “Il-Majjal”. It is a metre-long plank of wood hanging with chains – I consider it to be a statement piece in my studio, which at the moment happens to also serve as my home office since I’m working from home given the current circumstances. This piece typically features as a backdrop on a number of video calls I hold during my work day and is very often a topic of discussion during these calls.
“Majjal” is the Maltese term for Pig and can be in the Maltese context used to describe rude or inconsiderate people. The Pig is inspired by my love for classical English literature, notably Golding’s Lord of the Flies, wherein the Pig’s head symbol portrays the fight for power among the novel’s young men. Similarly, and equally inspired by George Orwell’s swine is Animal Farm. Since time immemorial pigs represented wealth and abundance, which hits home in an age where money and greed seem to be kings among humanity. This piece on natural wood is inspired by the fusion of literature and religion (within the context of the prohibition of pork consumption in certain religions), animals and humans, fiction and fact.
What is your current most important career goal? What steps are you taking to attain it?
Whereas I consider myself to be very career oriented from a professional services angle, I tend to shy away from setting own goals for my artistic side of my life. What pushes me to paint tends to stem from instinct rather than anything else and my main aim is to enjoy what I do. That said, I do absorb feedback from people who come face to face with my art but would still consider myself as stylistically aloof in the sense that I will probably never in my life bucket my art under a category or style. Sometimes I enjoy the rigidity of landscapes and architecturally-inspired drawings, I love the fluidity of certain pieces, and always welcome a challenging commission, in the sense that I often think to myself “ah this is interesting, it would have never crossed my mind to paint this piece”. The beauty in art is that people who own an artist’s work is essentially in possession of the creator’s moment in life, no artwork is the same and you are pushing (not entirely, nor solely financially) artists to keep pursuing something they are passionate about.
Do you find it hard to navigate the professional art world?
Albeit painting from ever since I could remember, prior to setting up an Instagram page ) my artwork was pretty much known solely to a select few. Within a space of a few months, I amassed considerable following and my posts started being reshared across a number of art platforms.
In the beginning I used to feel bad charging people for objects I enjoyed creating. I do however get the feel that art is increasingly being appreciated locally, especially by the younger generation and I suspect people are less inclined to look into acquiring pieces which are perhaps fashionable but seeking to get hold of that unique piece which suits their style. In fact I do sense that pieces that jar stylistically or evoke contention are more sought-after. Indeed I tend to sell these one-offs while they’re still fresh off the easel, before they dry even.
How can readers get their hands on one of your artworks?
I generally direct people who aren’t familiar with my previous work, to explore my Instagram page. Shamefully I have been meaning to roll out my website for some time now but it’s still a work in progress (like most of my personal artwork!). That said, I get quite a considerable number of requests for commissioned work and inquiries on availability of pieces, predominately through Instagram. Whereas I do appreciate buyers who own a little piece of my soul, I must admit sometimes I find it difficult to part with some pieces.