“My interest is exploring Malta and its contemporary underbelly — this has been a bit of a fixation, in that I wanted to make work relevant to contemporary issues without them being politicised,” Isaac Azzopardi explains his first solo exhibition, ħaġraisland, to Eve. The display of highly textured paintings and objects now fills the space of the Malta Society of Arts.

Through the use of construction material, appropriation and rubbing techniques, ħaġraisland is a venture to explore Maltese landscape. The colours yellow and blue stand for the land and sea (or sky?), encapsulating life on any island. The yellow signifies land, a country, history, identity, a stone in hand, dust, and home. The blue — sea and sky both a cultural gateway and a bane. The artist sees the colours as ‘objects’ in themselves. “This work is not activist-spurred, but simply a coming-to-terms with the local space,” he pointed out.

Photo credit: isaacazzopardi.com

By utilising rubbing techniques, the artist creates a remarkably textured surface and makes an assertion to the importance of the tactile, emphasising the importance of touch to our relationship with the spaces we inhabit. The paintings speak of nostalgia and idealism. In the sculptures, the use of the tactile draws attention to the act of colouring the concrete bricks. The act of rubbing is also a ritual of reconciliation with the object.

The work builds on Austin Camilleri’s Stones (1999), as an update of his idea of Maltese ‘sacred’. Other central references for this show are So Ho Duh Rubbing/Loving Project (2014) and Anselm Kiefer. “I wanted to make work that tried to provide a ‘next step’ for work of previous generations,” the artist told Eve.

Is he happy with the interest now that the exhibition nears the end? “The experience is quite strange, to be honest. There was obviously a lot of motivation to finish the work and set it up. Once it was over, I started to feel… not good. I guess it a natural ‘coming down’ and also an itch to make new work,” Isaac Azzopardi admits.

“I have yet to meet someone who tells me something bad, and that isn’t very positive for me,” he adds, preferring a challenging discussion. It would be refreshing if someone told you they didn’t like it and why, and getting to talk it out.” See for yourself and tell him: ħaġraisland is on at Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo de la Salle, Republic Street, Valletta, until Thursday the 29th of March.