By Naomi Galea
Naomi Galea sat at one of the bars in the heart of Valletta with artist, John Paul Azzopardi, to talk about his raw assemblage art whilst sipping on copious amounts of tea.
One sunny Wednesday afternoon, I met the assemblage artist John Paul Azzopardi in Valletta. We met in a bustling bar adorned with iconic posters and hung memorabilia, to talk about his art, as well as himself as an artist. This atmosphere provided a well-fitted setting for a conversation on assemblage art, which makes use of disparate everyday objects that are usually scavenged or bought by the artist. He uses techniques of restoration and conservation, as well as recycling of discarded materials, to create new artefacts.
John Paul started experimenting with his art form when he was sixteen, whilst working with wires and other materials that he found handy during electrical installation lectures. The creation of small figurines relieved his boredom during the lowly hours in class. He was always trying to find ways to express himself. He first experimented with music but later discovered that a more tangible medium was a better way of conveying his creativity. So, he started translating his ideas and representing his experiences in a three-dimensional art form.
The clanking of the teaspoon in our glass cups did not interrupt our conversation. He spoke enthusiastically, as he emphasised that his work falls under the category of ‘Postmodern art’. The situations he has dealt with and his concerns towards society are evident in his work. His inspiration emanates from his own tumultuous relationship with the world as well as daily frustrations towards the self, whilst constantly aiming to improve his work and find a more relatable and universal language.
Upon seeing his art, I could sense the melancholic essence behind each piece. He explained that art is not as free-flowing as one would hope, but even though everything stops for a while, one learns and moves on. Drawing on mystical readings, psychoanalysis, and a constant search for truth, he captures and builds himself and, consequently, his art.
John Paul’s journey of self-discovery started in the late 1970s in Hackney, London. One day, he saw his father pick up a dirty, distorted, metal ornate shelf, and he wondered what his father was going to do with such a good-for-nothing object. His father took it home, refurbished it, and restored it to its former glory. This was a moment of inspiration for the young John Paul. He believed he could start turning discarded material into things of beauty.
Later in life, at the age of 27, he met a modern era artist whose work was dark, intense and depressive. He was overcome by emotions which guided him throughout his artistic process. However, he felt that the intensity of the emotions he was experiencing were like a vicious, unhealthy cycle that the maturing John Paul wanted to steer away from. When he felt compelled to depend on these feelings, he wondered what had been fuelling them and realized he should be rationalising them rather than embodying and feeding them.
One material which John Paul makes use of is bone. Creating bone art has a meditative element. John Paul ponders as he waits for the glue to dry after patiently sticking one bone to another – creating an aesthetically beautiful piece. He is sensitive towards social issues which surround us and he explores his interpretation of these issues through his art. He constantly searches for and thinks about what his next art piece should convey, paying attention to every detail, and challenging the viewer by applying hidden meanings. Like a jigsaw puzzle, these formulate the bigger picture – the greater story. The spectators stop in their tracks to analyse it. When asked about his artistic process, he laughed, saying it’s not always the same. He once got inspired while having a bath, during which he conceived a figure – the ‘Bored Calculator’. From this, he continued to explore the phenomenon of boredom and dissected it to form his own interpretation.
John Paul’s art is alternative. All sorts of people buy his work; artists, collectors, tattooists… but he conceded that it is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many admit that they had contemplated buying a piece for years before finally purchasing it. He told me he could understand their reservations because some of his particularly bloody and dark pieces may not fit in the more austere and conservative style of the houses they live in.
His art is a form of beauty; a means of delving into issues we face on a daily basis. “Art is really about self-discovery,” John Paul mused. He looks at the world, gathering discarded objects, piece by piece. He uses this new material to externalise his ideas and feelings, and see them come to life. His aim is to make us think about and feel for the world around us.