Cranfield meets Antony Micallef

It’s a sunny Wednesday morning in Notting Hill and the photographers and I pull up in a tree lined London Street. A tall, dark haired, smartly dressed man picking up his morning coffee is about to pass us in the street until we realise that this is the man we had come to meet. Coffee in hand, we are welcomed and led upstairs to his studio.

Antony Micallef instantly came across as a thoughtful and conscientious guy – asking us to take care not to disturb his neighbours by making too much noise as we carry our kit upstairs. In addition, he asks us to take care not to tread oil paint on the stairwell, and in his studio there is plenty of paint about…

With so many canvases leaning against all the walls, space is somewhat cramped in the hallway and we struggle to get all our photographic kit through the door. Antony leads us into the front room, his former bedroom, where he chooses to paint, as Anthony finds the light is much better here. The floor is strewn with a myriad of well trodden, wet and dry reddish flesh tones of oil paints mixed with deep reds and whites, scrapers, brushes of all sizes, artists’ books, a paint splattered radio and a single chair placed in front of his latest canvas.

Antony_Micallef_studio_palatte

Light streams through the large window onto the canvas he is working on and refracted in the rather decadent chandelier above our heads. The walls are covered with colourful brush marks and mini sketch canvases. I’m sure that some would describe it as a chaotic mess, whereas in a way, the whole space could be described as a living canvas.

We soon realised that this is a space that is of Antony’s making, we are in his world, a personal space where his creativity can live and breathe. Although we are invited into his world we feel that we are definitely outsiders looking in.

I really liked Antony’s honesty, he was definitely not one for mincing his words. A man and artist of utmost integrity which is clearly reflected in his search for artistic autonomy. He has turned down commissions from
A-list celebrities not with an egotistical arrogance but rather through a need for control of every brush or squeegee mark to be a creative extension of him and his thoughts.

 

So how did you get into using Cranfield's Studio Oils?

Originally I was using Michael Harding’s but the Studio Oils were cheaper! No seriously I use a huge amount of paint, the Studio Oils are great paints and that’s what I need.

Antony_Micallef_at_work

Do artists get sponsored by paint companies?

You get it with people who paint walls and stuff but that would make me feel uncomfortable. It would become all about the performance, to me that’s not painting, you’d become the showman and to me I couldn’t think of anything worse.

 

You mentioned earlier you started doing graphic design

I studied fine art and in my last year of uni I thought I can’t get a job painting so I taught myself all the graphics design packages I could think of. I was offered a job which I took, and worked in the day and painted in the evenings. Graphics paid for a studio and a place to live.

 

Did your graphic work influence your painting?

It did in the beginning he said pointing to a earlier piece hung on the wall. I was taught by the highly respected John Virtue, who in turn was taught by Frank Auerbach. He is known for his heavy mark making and following on from the London school and their style of heavy impasto.

Impasto is the technique where paint is laid on an area of the surface very thickly, usually thick enough that the brush or painting-knife strokes are visible. Paint can also be mixed right on the canvas.

 

Antony_Micallef_impasto

So do you think this impasto style is where your heart is?

I’m really loving what I have touched upon, but I think it's kind of wrong for an artist to say “Well I’m there now – I do this. I’ve done it that’s it.” Life is full of new experiences, you want to try new things and to me making art is about that journey, isn’t it? Its about exploration.

I only started painting like this in the last year, so, I do feel I’ve tapped into something that has a lot more to give – again he points to smaller canvases with portraits - really these are sketches for my bigger portraits, developments that have evolved to where I am now.

 

So why oil paints?

I’ve used acrylics, but the thing I like about oil is that is gives you time to re-approach it, to me it’s a medium that’s versatile. I love it, you open the tin and just want to lick it or put your hand in.

To me acrylic is plastic like Lego, once it's down, it's dry, although I do use acrylics if I’m sketching outside. For me, oils are a medium that works well for my time frame – that’s what’s important, you have to find a medium that’s comfortable with you.

He points to a part of his current canvas – there are parts on here that aren’t right but there are bits that are beautiful, when it’s wet like this it’s almost like the inside of a snail. It's like the paint has a life of its own.

My paintings are all about the paint, and mixing or controlling it direct on the canvas rather than on a palette which creates this great marbling of colour.

Antony_Micallef_oils

How would you describe your style?

It's visceral – I want to make art that has a real emotional value to it – if it has no emotional connection with people it’s just a pile of paint on a canvas isn’t it?

 

You mentioned life drawing helps?

I’ve recently started life drawing again, but it can be quite brutal, if you get it wrong you really get it wrong. By studying the body, understanding where and how the muscles connect it really helps me when painting – I find I function or perform better as it frees me up, makes me looser. You know, the amount of paint I use it can get expensive so the less mistakes I make, the better.

We take a break to review the shots taken so far – he loves the ones that show the full studio and especially the red and fleshy coloured, paint covered floor. Antony jokes – It looks like I work in an abattoir. He admits to feeling very uncomfortable posing for the camera. He’s been asked before to point at his canvas but it’s so contrived and false and that’s just 'not me'.

 

Do you have any advice for upcoming artists?

You need to grow a tougher skin and get used to rejection.

In the past I had a pile of rejection letters from galleries – “Your style is not what we are looking for.” Being an artist the work you do is very personal and when you get a rejection letter it’s all too easy to take the rejection personally – “What, you don’t like what I think or what I do?”

I think it’s important to go through all of these experiences as an artist, it can make you more confident in yourself and your work. Then when you do get your break you feel like you’ve deserved it.

 

Useful Links
www.antonymicallef.com

Facebook: Antony Micallef

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