Christian is a well-known figure on the Rock, not just because of his now world-renowned artwork, but as a member of our Gibraltarian community. Born in Gibraltar in 1971, Christian went on to study Illustration at Middlesex University, before returning to teach art at Westside Comprehensive Girls School, and later went on to work as a part-time lecturer at the Royal College of Art in London. Christian has gone from success to success ever since, selling out in galleries such as Clarendon Fine Art and winning the coveted Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. He has painted the likes of world-champion boxer Amir Khan, award-winning actors Sir Ian McKellen and Alan Cumming, and The Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson to name but a few.
Christian says he has always been a daydreamer, which he credits for his success: “I’ve always had my own way of seeing and doing things,” he explains, something that has also caused him a fair bit of stress. “I didn’t understand why I was so different, why I couldn’t be like the rest. I just had a different perspective on everything. Then I found out I have ADHD and dyslexia…only now do I know that’s what makes me think in different ways.”
It’s like handwriting; everyone has their own, but it’s what you write that matters.
Christian has always been a creative person, likely influenced by his family, who he is very close to. “They’ve always been supportive of everything I’ve done,” says Christian. His father and grandfather were both musicians, with the latter playing violin in an orchestra. His other grandfather also had artistic talents, with his own darkroom at home in which to pursue his penchant for photography. “I’ve always had talented people around me, which really helped. I was always fascinated by the things they did. My brother and I were always very close growing up, too. He’s the type of person who does whatever he feels – to have someone like that beside me was incredibly influential.”
When asked what he would call his distinctive ‘style’ of art, Christian believes it’s more about the message behind the work than the labelling: “I don’t think it’s a style. It’s like handwriting; everyone has their own, but it’s what you write, what you say, that matters, not the handwriting itself. Style used to be important in the past. It was all about the movements; people used to follow each other. Today people tend to be more individualistic and conscientious when creating music, painting, sculpting, or working in theatre. We have a lot more opportunity for experiences what with the internet and with travel than we did fifty years ago, and that has had a profound impact on art.”
The concept seems impossible – transforming your canvas into a time machine.
Certainly, art has continued to transform and evolve over the decades, but how has Christian’s work personally changed? “In school and university, we’re taught techniques and how to experiment and make marks on canvas, but now it’s changed in concept. For me, it’s in understanding how to portray myself. The more you stay true to yourself, the more you find out about yourself. It’s difficult not to be compromised by external factors and to be as wrong as you are and own it. As soon as you water down what you are, you water down your talents, because you’re trying to fulfil or be in agreement with other people’s perspectives and expectations. You have to let your own flourish. All we have is our own way – and that’s the hardest thing to learn.”
Each artist has their own unique process, and Christian is no different. What he loves most about his is the fact that he has no idea what’s going to happen when the paint touches the canvas. “If anybody were to ask me to do it again, I couldn’t, as the process constantly changes! I try not to have any kind of repetition in the way that I do something, so I start and finish a different way every time. Each piece is a complete surprise.” To maintain this element of surprise, Christian reveals he has sometimes learnt from interesting, if perhaps not always intentional, mistakes
Christian is inspired by science and nature, and how we find them in a constant state of flux. “There is nothing still in any moment,” Christian explains. “And that inspired my art. Instead of simply painting a person, or object, my idea was to paint an amount of time in the life of something, rather than the thing itself. The concept seems impossible – transforming your canvas into a time machine.”
Like all art there has to be something in the work that touches you.
This love of science has spilled over into other areas of Christian’s life, such as a recent documentary he filmed in collaboration with research scientists [more on this later], which he considers a vehicle to finding out who he really is at his core. “I am constantly in search of some kind of truth. What is at the bottom of something? What does it mean to us? If you find it, it will resonate with everyone else.”
Like all art there has to be something in the work that touches you, that connects to other people. “It’s like a song,” Christian describes. “You can talk about it for ages, but you either like it or you don’t. You can have the best guitarist in the world, the best singer, but people have to really feel the song to like it.” Emotion is, Christian believes, an international language that we all share and which intrinsically connects us.
When Christian isn’t painting or immersing himself in science, you can find him on the music scene, working on a project which began around a year ago. “It’s been done in the same way as my paintings – all the wrong way around! Everything starts out as a mess, and in the mess, we find the good things. It’s based on all the things I have discovered from the different places I’ve been to.”
This seemingly haphazard, yet inarguably successful process has also followed Christian into the world of cryptocurrency, as he is about to launch his very own coin – the New Medici – which some of the top galleries in London have already signed up to. “It works so differently, that it works better!” states Christian. The same could be said of himself.
Christian shares that he is involved with around ten different businesses at the moment, some doing even more lucratively than his artwork, but the common denominator is a passion for and belief in what he is doing, no matter the subject. “It’s about knowing where the heart of something lies. Once you find it, people will connect with it straight away. Like a good song, it needs no explanation.”
Winning Portrait Artist of the Year back in 2014 accelerated the momentum of Christian’s work, but as he explains, he also had a great deal going on behind the scenes. Christian spent some time travelling around the world with Elon Musk’s partner along with other great minds for British Polo Day, an invitation-only global platform to build relationships with some of the world’s most dynamic and most interesting individuals, through distinct experiences hosted in iconic destinations. “British Polo Day was a platform for these big thinkers to meet presidents, kings and queens around the world. They would accommodate us and there would be one polo match and dinner, where they would discuss their new ideas. My role was to live with the maharaja, president, prince or governor for a week, and paint a portrait for them as a gift in return. It was a lot of pressure, but an incredible experience.”
Despite his full and varied workload, Christian has no plans to slow down, as he has just finished working on a documentary, Painting the Invisible, to be aired on Sky. “I wrote to a big TV company with an idea I had, and thankfully, they loved it!” It’s based on the mystical connection between two people, and what happens once they part ways.
“I just want to know what everyone else wants to know,” says Christian. “Do you stay connected to someone after you split up?” Some of the best scientists in the world (including Nobel laureates) got together with some of the best equipment in the world from the likes of NASA, to reveal the 95% of matter that is invisible to the human eye – especially that which exists between two people. “I wanted to discover if we could see it, if it was real, and then… could I paint it? And we did it! We discovered so many things, and it opened a new door to art, and to painting a new reality.
“We found out a lot about ourselves, and how we stay connected. We saw it all. The programme explains a lot about relationships and what they do to us. I think that is probably more important than the work itself. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it cannot be repeated. I think this kind of thing is what makes the artwork special.”
As our conversation came to an end, Christian imparted some of the knowledge which has served him so well throughout his career so far; something seemingly incongruous, and yet somewhat comforting. He says, “If you’re going to go wrong, go wrong properly. Go all the way wrong. In that, you’re somewhere right.”