In his novel american gods, British author Neil Gaiman says, “The way you tell a story, to yourself or to the world, is by telling the story. It’s a balancing act and it’s a dream”.
The sculptures of Anthony Lucian Cauchi in his exhibition, entitled Outside, inside, come from different sources; of his dreams, of his knowledge, of his baggage – a creative balancing act indeed. Reading and teaching history as a profession gave him ample material for his creativity to flourish. “My work, be it drawings, sculptures or paintings, can be seen as a collaboration between my knowledge and my imagination”, explains the artist.
He draws from the roots of fable or historical figure as a springboard for his ceramics. “When I was a history teacher, I engaged in discussions with students about characters from Greek and Roman civilizations. The students contributed creatively with their beliefs about what these people stood for,” Cauchi points out. “These ideas found their way into my drawings, and I also referenced them while kneading clay for my sculptures.”
I try to represent redemption, that cruelty can be overcome
One cannot help but notice that the artist focuses on mythologies, fables and creatures from civilizations ranging from classical to Nordic. However, there is no reference to local subject matter, perhaps finding our anthology of material less inspiring and captivating. However, he begs to differ. “Our anthology is practically a copy of the others,” remarks Cauchi. “Malta is the result of major historical events that occurred both in Europe and in the East. Every invasion and most empires settings have affected Malta in one way or another.
He admits that his main interest lies in the protagonists and fables of Roman and Greek mythology. Ancient religions and how their followers interacted with their idols is a touchpoint that intrigues Cauchi. “For example, my Bull in Sacrifice analyzes the moment when a bull’s throat is slit while the sinner below is covered and receives the animal’s sacred blood as a sign of repentance for sins committed.”
The symbolism of Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon
Cauchi is interested in the world of the French symbolist Gustave Moreau (1826-1898), a world in which mythology, eroticism and religion intertwine in new narratives. Moreau recreated new scenarios from old ones, endowing them with mystery and fascination. The paintings and ceramics of the Maltese artist similarly infiltrate this plot, this hinterland where the erotic, the mythological and the religious orthodox dialogue and establish a new language. “In classical history, erotic gestures and encounters were dictated by the pantheon of gods and goddesses and their demands and taste for sacrifice,” says Cauchi.
At Homer The Iliad, Olympus dictates the fate of mankind, its deities seeking out particular specimens for their wiles and pleasure, whether to satisfy a bloodlust or scratch an erotic itch. The terrestrial sphere was only a playing field in which the heroes, their companions and the people, including those who were hybrids, like the centaurs, were only pawns in the great Olympian scheme.
“My work centaurs in love shows a male and female centaur bound by an amorous kiss,” says Cauchi, thus demonstrating the universality of love, transcending everything, even the diabolical designs of the evil dominating pantheon.
Odilon Redon (1840-1916) was another French symbolist who poetically explored very strange subjects populated by cyclops, spiders and monsters, but in a context where nature thrives and thrives. Redon once wrote: “There is a certain style of drawing which the imagination has freed from the embarrassing concern for real details so that it serves freely only as a representation of things conceived. He created dreamlike worlds in which otherworldly creatures peacefully co-existed and interacted with nature. Although grotesque, these beings did not radiate a threatening aura. They seem to recognize their strangeness while learning to live with it.
Cauchi adopted this philosophy and created his own dream worlds. “My ceramics Centaur shows a centaur husband and wife who have grown wings instead of arms and are ready to soar, to be in love. His horses in love is a graphic and suggestive representation of two horses engaged in an erotic act that elicits comparisons with human love, a blurring of the boundaries between human and animal, just like Redon. The Maltese artist admits that there is a voyeuristic dimension to this sculpture: “The two horses enthusiastically attempt to make love in the presence of their owner, which contributes to their sexual ecstasy.”
“We must not forget that a monster is only a variation”, proclaims the American novelist John Steinbeck in his East of Eden. Monsters have become ingrained in our psyche, we categorize humanity according to perspectives, honed by decades of conditioning, experience and education. Each era creates its own demons, its chasms of humanity, its pariahs to destroy. One could even argue that the monsters of old are less scary because a dragon could be neutralized and chained, Goliath could be killed by a small pebble, dawn meant the end for Nosferatu.
Perhaps the passage of time has lessened their threat, even when it comes to their narrative enchantment. ” I’ve created dragon in game like a role reversal. I dream of dragons and other legendary animals having a heart and capable of tender actions, indeed a dragon kissing a woman in distress. I try to represent redemption, that cruelty can be overcome,” Cauchi explains. “And maybe the labels are misleading. You don’t have to be born to live and die like a monster. Every sensible thing is capable of love and transformation.
Every sentient thing is capable of love and transformation
Cauchi pieces are like talismans, sometimes evoking the sculptural reliefs of Khajuraho temples in India, commonly known as Kamasutra temples. However, the artist claims that he rarely connects with Far Eastern civilizations as his profession as a history teacher focused more on classical Greek and Roman civilizations. “Eroticism in classical Roman times was very evident, as influenced by the different religions, their vast sprawling empire imported from the South and the East,” he says. “This erotic freedom and way of thinking is evident in their painting and sculpture.”
In Outside, inside, it also refers to later eras, such as 15th-century France and the myth of Joan of Arc; he carved his pitiful, imploring countenance as consumed by flames, the fate of his martyrdom and his claim to eternal fame. viking ship is about the funeral of a Viking leader and the ritual of cremating the corpse in the middle of a bay.
“An artist benefits profoundly from an appreciation and understanding of art from different eras and what artistic movements represented, in addition to the consequent development of styles and techniques; it all contributes to a more honest artistic expression. All great art is universal and timeless,” concludes Cauchi.
Outside, hosted in the courtyard of the Malta Society of Arts, runs until October 4. Check the company’s Facebook page for opening hours and more information.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.