By Matt Triay

The exhibition went on for over a week, with artists flying from Austria, France and the UK as well local artists all taking part. I was lucky enough to speak with one of the artists, Michaël Viger, a humble man with a passion to create, a writer, a painter, a musician, a jazz lover. Michaël is not afraid to try and to discover; Art vs Covid was an exploration into new territories. He was able to ‘paint me a picture’ of life as an artist and explain the need for art.

Michaël’s father is a composer who makes music for movies, both his kids are musicians so you could say it’s in their genes. Michaël reminisced about being around the theatre as young as 3 years old; he saw it as an “invitation” to join the world of artists, saying he “always wanted to write, to paint, to make music…” today he does exactly that, combining all his creative talents.

I asked Michaël if he felt different at a young age: “I was a singular child playing in my own world, in my own universe and for other children to join you in your universe is quite difficult… still now I have this pleasure to enter my world and to create.” I mentioned my interest in screenwriting and he showed me his latest work. It was clear to see Michaël is an artist in every sense of the word – he relies on his talent to survive. With Covid-19 many Artists are uncertain of their future and the future of the industry and may not be able to rely on their talents for survival any longer. Art vs Covid suggests otherwise.

‘To enjoy art it takes time… if an artist can transcend feeling then one’s attention span is irrelevant.”

When Michaël started in the art world he was directing movies. He spoke about the lack of competition and as a young director he was given “the opportunity to produce and to create well, today there are a lot of directors…” I asked Michaël if he thought more traditional art forms such as painting were potentially at risk with the accessibility and popularity of movies, TV series and the change in youth’s attention spans and need for stimulation. Michaël believes that people do love paintings, they love to hang paintings on their walls, he described this as a “marriage” to art. “To enjoy art it takes time” Michaël explained. He described art as a form of communication, and if an artist can transcend feeling then one’s attention span is irrelevant.

How did Michaël join the Masa Art Gallery? Kiko, the son of Matija, owner of the Masa Art Gallery, saw him on the social media platform Instagram and liked this work. Kiko then invited Michaël to hold an exhibition in Manchester. This of course highlighted social media as a talking point in our conversation. However, Michaël felt Instagram impacted his ability to create; before he would create by himself for himself but now with social media he is thinking about his audience during the process.

Yet for an exhibition like Art vs Covid, social media’s salience is undeniable. Nevertheless, by the end of our conversation Michaël maintained that “art has to be shared… it is magnificent when somebody is in front of your painting and they stay in front and they look at you and smile… thats all I need”.

Many thanks has to be given to the Masa Art Gallery, a lot of energy was put in by the owners to coordinate this exiting project, notably the transporting of the art to Gibraltar. Covid has to a large extent halted cultural life with a projected £74bn drop in revenue for the creative industries and 400,000 jobs lost in Britain alone according to the Oxford Economics Report as reported by the Guardian. According to the NY Times Britain has been the slowest to reopen their cultural sector, they have also failed to protect the industry unlike France, Germany, Italy and Belgium who have had much fewer lay offs and provided heavy subsidies.

Nevertheless global crises such as Covid can inspire artists, as Michaël agreed: “All you have to do is look back at history… we are creating much more when there is a crisis; against something, for something… its a way to speak, to scream, to touch people.” This is indicative of why we need the cultural industry now more than ever, people need art during these times to feel connected. “Covid is like a war” says Michaël. Continuing to create is inspiring to people and that is their (artists) fight – and not just Covid, as Michaël mentions other world problems that artists “scream” about, such as racism.

I asked Micheal about the importance of art in small communities such as Gibraltar and making art global. He felt art was pertinent to small communities, but rather than globalisation these communities must stay unique. He expressed that artists can grow with help from other artists, from the community, just as he was helped starting out in his career.

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