ĠOXWA: WHY LEAVING IS IMPORTANT FOR AN ARTIST
ĠOXWA: WHY LEAVING IS IMPORTANT FOR AN ARTIST
By Prof. Paul Sant Cassia
Few Maltese art cognoscenti may know of Ġoxwa, and even less our luminaries. Yet this Maltese artist has long been established in Paris where she has been exhibiting regularly for many years – and indeed is one of the most expensive and sought-after contemporary artists currently exhibiting there. In this contradiction lies an important lesson about art and artists: that a young and aspiring artist must often leave his or her natal home and travel to the metropolis to seek inspiration, challenges and above all, risks.
Risk is probably the single most important challenge facing an artist: the risk to innovate, to discover one’s inner voice, and above all to discover oneself. In art, to discover oneself is as challenging – and often as painful – as psychoanalysis. One does not discover oneself in a serendipitous self-indulgent exploration of whims and fantasies, nor in some extended touristic search for visual stimulants. That can come later. But to begin it is sometimes essential to “be away”, to be stripped bare of the psychic comforts of one’s environment where every self-indulgent artistic fantasy or shallow exploration of some visual theme is welcomed with gushing admiration, and which does as much damage to the recipient in its cloying adulatory suffocation as it demonstrates the insecure undiscriminating provinciality of the person praising it.
In the history of art, painting, literature and even science, we know that natal environments are little islands – literally or metaphorically reassuring, but deadly to the artist. Most artists had to travel, that is to lose themselves to discover themselves. Easier said than done: few people manage to lose themselves and even fewer “find themselves” for finding is making, not some opening of a Russian Doll or the peeling of an onion. And this is as true in today’s globalised world as it was in the sixteenth century where most artists were known by their geographical origins which they abandoned never to return: from Merisi (i.e. “da Caravaggio”) to Poussin, from Cezanne to Picasso and Antonio Sciortino yesterday, and to Marina Abramovic today. That is what made them world artists in contrast to local or provincial ones. Few, indeed, of their natal communities actually possesses any examples of their work. Art is movement, but movement outside the mover. And in its modest way, the story of Ġoxwa is part of that pattern.
Disappointed with the local art scene and intuitive that had she to remain here she risked losing herself for her doppelganger, she left Malta years before the pearly gates of the European Union opened for Maltese, to study at St Martin’s School of Art in London, and then at Emerson College, Boston. After a number of years in the US she moved to Paris. That city of art was not easy for a young woman. Many artists dream to find good galleries to exhibit in, but the Gallerists have seen it all before. The good ones have their hands on the pulse of the art-loving cognoscenti: they are sophisticated, sometimes blasé; but always acutely discerning. Yet Ġoxwa persisted; she worked hard and seriously often in straightened circumstances; slowly developed her vision and technique (using encaustic and recalling the Fayyum portraits) and eventually a perceptive Gallerist in the 6th Arrondisement (where many of the top Art Galleries are located) saw her potential and offered her a show. As Olivier Renault notes, when people pass by her work, they stop and look – and in a city where visual stimulation is the currency of existence.
Since then Ġoxwa has been sought out by Art Galleries in Paris as well as in New York. Her exhibitions are normally sellouts: an average price for a small canvass is in the region of 15,000 Euros. But let us leave the ostentation of monetary prices for those who think that art is an auction of supply and demand, or even for those provincials who might be impressed by high prices as an indication of value and therefore of investment. One purchases works of art because one likes them, because they say something to one. Not a mere illustration, but a narration or a reflection.
Is Ġoxwa Borg a Maltese artist or a Parisian one? She is neither but she belongs to both. She has transcended one to make herself, and is therefore not a hyphenated identity. She has her own vision but she approaches her sources from her own perspective. She leaves from her sources, including Valletta her natal city, but does not inhabit her natal land. Yet perhaps her island is still there, its walls and contours seen from the sea in the mists of her memories and in the sketches she makes on her yearly visits to transform them into “something rich and strange….”
“I would like to think that I am being faithful to those old fresco painters, who were of course “modern” in their days uniting technique and feeling, careful observation of the world around them with fading but still living traditions of an art that must go back to the painters on the walls of caves thousands of years ago”. Ġoxwa Borg
Artists featured: Ġoxwa