The Fine Arts Association is holding its annual Summer Show, where a variety of local artwork is on sale on a cash’n’carry basis, which means that sold items are immediately replaced with new ones by the same artist: this allows them maximum exposure while guaranteeing variety, continuity and novelty to visitors throughout summer.
The event is a competitive one, with all entries judged by a panel of local adjudicators who awarded Michele Stagnetto the first price, Lianne Agius the second, and Lorraine Buhagiar the third.
The FFA concocts and realises big projects all year round, aimed at involving as many people as possible in the promotion and appreciation of visual arts locally, and at exporting homegrown artists while importing their counterparts from Europe and possibly the world.
“There’s a misconception that the FAA is open only to artists as active art producers,” says the Association President Paul Cosquieri, a volunteer on a busy schedule. “In fact, the Association welcomes, and thrives on, all art consumers, lovers and supporters who want to join and witness the growth of local art at cultural evenings, exhibition openings, lectures and the various and varied events we organise for members.”
A wide membership is not just about financial strength, but about strength in numbers when it comes to lobby for sponsorship or cultural initiatives of a certain breadth, and it also encourages active artists to produce artwork, knowing that it will be viewed by larger grassroots. And since the Association is run by volunteers, an army of soldiers willing to give up their time and expertise for organising events, developing ideas, chasing international exhibitors, liaising with officials etc. can prove invaluable help for the Association’s eight-strong dynamic committee.
There’s still a long way to go, particularly in lobbying for funds, but the FAA has an excellent working relationship with Culture.gi, that remains the main organiser of the three largest artistic events in Gibraltar, the Spring, the International and the Youth exhibitions, and it is the referral for any new proposal. Long overdue is the earmarking of premises for rented studio space to be afforded to artists so that dimension is not constricted by lack of space, because most of local artists still work at home or in garages.
Paul Cosquieri, better known in the circles as Cosqui of the square-metre canvas fame, exhorts young people to join the association, whose fee stands at a mere tenner and lands you invites to life drawing, tertulias, lectures, and exhibition openings, an average of ten arty parties per year: art students won’t only build their confidence and experience by rubbing shoulders with seasoned painters at the weekly life drawing sessions, but will actively contribute by challenging the views that the previous generation may have taken for granted.
On the hot topic of challenging rules and conventions, Paul observes that art in Gibraltar is too conservative in subject matters and too decorative in styles. Nothing wrong with it, of course, but it needs a shake-up by the ‘activist’ side to put across a precise message, even if it is ugly, upsetting, disturbing and toe-stepping. Local art tends to ‘play it safe’ and lacks the audacity of putting out something bold and outrageous not just for the sake of shock and awe, but also to push the boundaries and knock down the limitations that tradition and morality may contain art with.
For instance, Paul still gets raised eyebrows about the successful weekly life drawing get-together that has been running for fifteen years every Thursday: outsiders object to drawing and exhibiting naked bodies. This is not deterring the Association from the life drawing breastfeeding open day, with artists portraying women nursing their babies – and students are warmly encouraged to participate in this event with the twofold purpose of raising awareness about these human activities, both shrouded in ‘controversy’.
Of course, every artist has financial considerations to keep in mind: if one wants to make a living out of artwork or at least cover costs, one tries to produce what is appealing to the buyer, sponsor or adjudicator, and Paul undersigns to that. On the other hand, real art should be independent and unlimited without being constrained or harnessed by economical or social concerns. Bygone the times of Renaissance-style benefactor princes, Paul calls for the Government to support the arts with bursaries, placements and residencies that would result in the production of art in a large scale, for public consumption, like installations, videos, multi-media and other creations that would not be relegated in an art gallery, but could sit in the streets for everyone to enjoy. One idea that was suggested and hopefully, it will come to fruition soon, are apes or Rock blank effigies for artists to decorate at their own heart’s desire, and exhibit in the town centre, similar to the life-size plastic cows grazing around European capitals about a decade ago.
“Artists must be like philosophers: thinking outside the box or the canvas, thought-provoking and provocative, to make us redefine our standards, rethink our society and meditate about where we’re going: they must enthuse emotions in us, whether negative or positive is besides the point, as long we don’t stand indifferent in the face of art.”
In the meantime, the Association keeps up its three core annual appointments with the market: the Affordable Art exhibition in the run-up to Christmas, so that every art lover can boast an original piece on their mantelpiece and every artist can sell something, the Summer Show geared to give exposure to commercial work, and the National Day Exhibition. This focuses strictly on a Gibraltar theme, and it is being steered towards a concept of pure art raising above trite beauty criteria, so the adjudicator will not be picking on aesthetically pleasing criteria but rather on brain-picking ones. “We are after the most innovative interpretation of the plea of ‘being a Gibraltarian’ and we encourage entrants to be bold, spontaneous, cutting-edge in their analysis, and to express themselves freely without the price or the prize in mind.”
Paul adds: “We want to foster as much art as possible locally and promote our own production abroad. We support cultural exchanges and we are working towards a travelling collective which will take some of our work abroad and in exchange set up an exhibition of international artists in Gibraltar, so we can learn from what they are doing, and from each other.”
Whereas making a living solely out of art in Gibraltar is virtually impossible, attaining the services of an international gallery that represent and exhibits one’s works is the gateway to making it big: “Christian Hook is our finest example nowadays,” Paul says with pride. “He commands five-figure price tags for his paintings at the Clarendon, but he is based in Gibraltar and he still is our homegrown Christian!” And the Association is all about scouting the next ‘Hook’ by introducing new art to people and new people to art.
The Fine Arts Association holds weekly life drawing sessions every Thursday and portrait sessions every other Tuesday at the Gallery in Casemates Upper Balcony. Your solo exhibition must be booked at least one year in advance and a monetary deposit is required. Nominal entry fees are charged for the collective exhibitions to both members and non-members (these are also required to pay membership for one year).