Who is Kenneth Zammit Tabona?
This calls for a bit of soul-searching honesty. I’m a very acquisitive person, mostly in the accumulation of knowledge. However, the good side to this is that I love sharing this knowledge. I sometimes feel that I may have missed my true vocation of being a teacher. I’m articulate and artistic, but as soon as I’m confronted by anything numerical I tend to feel queasy. I get bored of things when they cease to be of relevance, and I see life as a series of challenges. I’m well disposed towards most people and I fail to see how or why the feeling is not always mutual. It never ceases to upset me. I have a quick temper, but one that dissipates in minutes, and I tend to be an optimist most of the time. The world of art is my oyster; music, painting, sculpture, drama, architecture, prose, poetry, which is possibly why I love that most complex and absurd of genres – opera!
How did art make its way into your life?
I think it’s always been there and was just waiting to be discovered. Being an only child, I was more often than not left to amuse myself, and therefore painting was a great way to spend hours having fun while the grown ups were busy doing other things like those never-ending afternoon siestas in summer; in those days I regarded them as a terrible waste of time.
It was not expected of people of my vintage to be a professional painter; a dilettante, yes, but the social and educational system I was plunged into directed us to be lawyers, doctors, architects and businessmen. While other professions, very few, were tolerated, being an artist other than a Sunday afternoon one was considered to be an aberration. Luckily, things have changed drastically in the last thirty years.
Late Autumn in Malta
You invest yourself in several genres of art – from theatre to painting to table laying. How would you say these various forms influence each other in your endeavours?
There are so many facets to art. While table laying is a skill dictated as much by knowledge as good taste, cooking is an art that, like love and marriage, goes with table laying like a horse and carriage! So yes, in my own modest way I am a polymath, trying my hand at being a watercolourist, a writer, an impresario and a gourmet, to mention a few of my ventures. I collect Chinese porcelain and English transferware, and decorate with one and eat off the other.
My paintings reflect this relationship with beautiful objects, especially in what the late Professor Fr Peter Serracino Inglott called my ‘fuoridentros’. They also include the stormy and rocky seascapes that I love so much. Open windows and billowing curtains reveal horizons of swirling water and skies laden with rain and lightning, crescent moons and ubiquitous birds. A de Redin watchtower usually dominates dizzy escarpments plunging into a boulder-strewn sea or rolling hillocks in which a small country chapel nestles, its sole bell encircled in an exquisite baroque arch.
The formula is always the same, whether it’s planning a baroque festival or an elaborate painting. It’s the love for my surroundings that sets off the creative juices and inspire me to share my vision with others… as many as I possibly can. It’s like having a party without a limit to how many guests one invites – a question of the more the merrier.
The Bach Chorale
What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘decadence’?
Decadence is something that has just past its sell-by-date but is still beautiful if amoral. Malta is still building a cultural identity for itself. It’s still very far from being past its sell-by-date!
How is Malta progressing as a cultural and artistic hub?
It never ceases to astound me that for a tiny archipelago with such a small population, we can produce so much art. I put it down to our environment – a sophisticated baroque idiom wherever you turn your head. A relic of an Order of Chivalry which was fundamental to our being a nation, an organisation of warrior knights from the most aristocratic Catholic families in Europe leaving their mark in grandiose buildings like Auberge de Castille, St John’s Co Cathedral and our beloved Teatru Manoel. Therefore we are and have always been a cultured nation almost unconsciously. We are in fact far more baroque than we realise!