In Conversation with Renowned Maltese Artist James Vella Clark

Photo Credit: Rene Rossignaud

Born in 1975, James Vella Clark made his artistic debut in 2001 with his first solo exhibition “Beyond Perspectives” followed by several solo exhibitions in Malta, and abroad namely in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and New York. Known mostly for his colourful abstract renditions of the Maltese landscape, Vella Clark’s work gradually assumed a more abstract dimension and today, most of his work falls under abstract expressionism. James Vella Clark lives and works from his studio in Valletta. We caught up with the artist to find out more!

What initially inspired you to become an artist, and how has your heritage influenced your creative work?

My earliest recollections are of my constant drawing on schoolbooks, diaries and what was supposed to feature my homework! I kept drawing for most of my childhood and teenage years but when I turned 25, a chance encounter with a book of landscapes by Pawl Carbonaro triggered me to start painting again. After a year, I sold my first painting to a friend and that was the start of a long but very rewarding journey. The heritage I’m mostly fond of is what’s left of our village skyline and the raw landscape contrasting with the blue Mediterranean.

Your art often features vivid colours and unique compositions. Can you describe the artistic techniques and mediums you prefer to work with and why?

I work mostly in acrylics but when I am painting large abstracts, I tend to use oil paint. My colours are bold and that much I know because people always tell me how I’m not afraid of applying colour. My compositions are very much the product of the moment. I start and I just see where it takes me. It’s the beauty of creating art.

Your work encompasses various themes, from landscapes to abstract art. Could you explain the underlying messages or emotions you aim to convey through your diverse artistic expressions?

My landscapes usually feature details that at times are visible and at times are not – like a code. Then once you know about them, you cannot unsee them. As with my abstracts, especially with my new ones, I am trying to free myself as much as I can because at times, even though we try to paint freely, it’s never easy and we tend to find ourselves constrained by our own expectations, by other people’s expectations or by things in general. With my abstracts, I try as much as possible to convey freedom and spontaneity.

Malta has a rich cultural history. How has your environment and the local culture shaped your artistic style and the subjects you choose to depict in your art?

The typical details that make up many of our traditional towns and villages have served me a lot of inspiration in the past. Nowadays, watching so many villages and towns ruined in the name of progress has left me disenchanted and I have been increasingly reimagining our landmarks the way only I want to see them. Perhaps that could explain why my landscapes are becoming more abstract.

Many artists go through distinct phases or periods in their careers. Can you share with us how your artistic style or approach has evolved over time, and what you might be working on in the future?

My art has been a constant companion for me and although my style of landscapes has been evolving, some of the more crucial qualities have always remained. Perhaps my biggest leap of faith happened when I started venturing into the abstract expressionist realm. I feel that this best reflects who I am and who I want to be as an artist.

What’s on the horizon? (any exhibitions etc)

I am currently working on a new collection of large abstract paintings which will be exhibited at FORM showroom in Valley Road Msida between the end of November and January of next year in an exhibition themed “NEW FORMS”.