Tongue-in-cheek remarks from a bearded hipster, sarcastic play with common objects, such as coffee in a glass, and the iconic vulture that greets visitors – Ryan Falzon’s paintings and drawings make his visual critique of the concept of culture relatable. He consciously uses nostalgic images that would make one go ‘Awww’ – before noticing a merciless twist to them, added by the artist.

Culture is being used as a tool for conservation rather than moving forward, proclaims the description of Ryan Falzon’s newest exhibition, Culture is Past, Art is Future. The same description adds that the exhibition exists in parallel with the opening of Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture, but the artist tells Eve this wasn’t planned – Iniala5 gallery in Valletta simply had no alternative slots for 2018.

Eve: Many of these works are inspired by Valletta. What does the city mean to you?

Ryan Falzon: Yes, they were inspired by Valletta, by its changes, by gentrification, some of them – by the 2017 electoral campaign and the role that culture played there. I love Valletta, it’s a city which has got a lot of culture. But I don’t romanticise Valletta – its characteristics need to be preserved without giving it a cheap polish, and there is no need to pump it up.

Eve: There is a reoccurring topic of nostalgia in your work. How would you describe your relationship with nostalgia?

RF: It can be described as a love-hate relationship. Nostalgia is comfort, and everyone loves comfort. But I think that looking back is keeping us from looking forward. If we think that we are Maltese because we have the pastizzi and the karozzini, it’s going to stop us from developing our identity as Europeans, living in the European Union, and the issues that need to be addressed, namely the environment and the conservation of townhouses.

The Culture Vulture was chosen as the ‘face’ of the exhibition

Eve: What kind of audience do you target?

RF: I think that everyone can create a dialogue with the works. These pop elements help the general public to create a bridge with the works, but it can only happen if the general public is open to interpretation. Yes, there is an element of nostalgia in Maltese culture, but here it’s placed in an ironic context. One needs to broaden their horizon.

Eve: You have lived in Berlin. Was the audience just as receptive?

RF: Somehow, yes. The responses were good. Maybe my characters appear exotic, exciting, coming from a different world down South, but it has my personal touch – this is how I see Malta.

Eve: What’s next in line for you?

RF: I have another show opening in Valletta in February, it’s called The Snake Show. It’s a collective. I have another show with Maria Galea [of Iniala5] in April, and then I’ll go to Berlin for a year.

Eve: The word ‘hipster’ appears in several places. What’s the Maltese hipster culture like for you?

RF: I think hipster culture is a pure example of how things are copied and pasted. Hipsters in Berlin, hipsters in London are mostly the same thing. Here it’s mostly about the issue of gentrification – importing something which is foreign and just placing it here. I think it’s easy to pick on hipsters, so I don’t want to be this judgemental artist pointing at hipsters, because I think that [would be] silly. I’m trying to portray what’s going on around us, and hipsters are part and parcel of it – it’s a way of life, it’s present, and I’m just commenting about it.