Dark sultry colours, displaced figures and symbolic meanings. All of this and more is hidden behind the brushstrokes of American painter Susan Waitt. Her artworks evoke a sense of haunting otherness.
Being an ex-pat living in Malta must not have been easy, yet the artists’ prolific imagination and her emphasis of the resonances hiding beneath the mundane scope of everyday life is elevated to the palpable emotions reflected in her work.
How has your life in Malta coloured and influenced your work?
The deep history of Malta, reaching back into the mysterious prehistory, inspires me greatly, as does the often otherworldly quality and play of the light here. Also, Malta’s social life is thriving. There are a number of lively communities to which I belong and have happily participated at one time or another – communities of visual artists, writers, television and film folk, academics, historians and ghost hunters. Since producing art can be a rather solitary in-turned industry, I find that my connection to others, especially around topics that interest and excite me, energises my work.
If you could pick three artists who’ve influenced you, who would they be and why?
Salvador Dali has influenced the way I think because he partnered his unruly subconscious stirrings and dream symbology and iconography to his keen interest in the findings of science, especially quantum physics, and sought to depict this in his art. Walt Disney changed the way I look at the world because he is the ultimate storyteller. He embraced and portrayed the whole circle of life – good, bad and everything in-between! But ultimately, Agostino Arrivabene is partly responsible for the way I paint. I love the way he portrays rays of light like ascending and descending trajectories, symbolising bridges of communication between the ideal and real worlds, as well as the way he paints symbolic bacterial clouds that represent our highest confusion and inability to freeze life in its total and unaltered perfection.
Some of your paintings seem to hint at split personalities, perhaps doppelgangers or an evil twin kind of consciousness. Is that what you mean by the word ‘uncanny’?
Human nature reflects the duality found in the world. The Night Gallery exhibition serves as a mirror of those impulses that are hidden below the surface in all of us, but sometimes emerge in surprising and disturbing ways. The ‘Uncanny’, to me, in part represents that part of ourselves that we deny and from which we hide. Familiar, yet weirdly alien.
Your exhibition comes accompanied with talks on the supernatural, a focus on people’s natural psychic ability, and even a magic show by Vanni Pule. How does this tie in with your art?
I have a great interest in consciousness studies and psi phenomena, and it’s this that also drives my interest in hidden occult realities as a proper subject for art. Throughout my life, the aesthetics of occult, esoteric, and supra-natural themes were readily available to me, since many well-known artists famously explored these ideas. Spiritualism in particular inspired important creative figures such as William Butler Yeats, Edward Munch and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was captivated by supernatural themes and referred to the image of doppelgangers in his work. It was Andre Breton and the Surrealist movement who adopted and made use of the Spiritualist technique of automation and use of the trance state.
Night Gallery: The Uncanny and the Sublime will be running from the 29th October through to the 25th November at The Fortress Builders in Valletta. There will also be a number of special mini-events centred around the exhibition. On the 8th November at 6.30pm, there will be a talk entitled The Science of Ghosts. There will also be a free Psychic & Soul Art Workshop at 1pm on the 15th November, and a special magic show by Mr Vanni Pule on the 22nd November.