As with most young and impressionable adults with a love for art, Annabel Zammit’s interest in drawing and painting only ever stopped at that, an interest, albeit a strong one. But that all changed early last year.
“When you’re young, many people tell you that a professional career is very important, and so I never quite equated art with a professional career. I studied accounts and economics instead, but although I graduated from University, I wasn’t happy. I still yearned to pursue art, but got into graphic design instead, and studied it in Milan for four years. With graphic design, you always start with sketches, so I got to practice my drawing skills, and when I came back to Malta, I started freelancing as a graphic designer, together with a friend of mine who worked in videography.”
Her first commission was to have significant bearing on her career. “We were working on the branding of a client who has a restaurant in Valletta. He wanted to hang some paintings up in the restaurant, and when I told him I used to paint, we agreed to collaborate. Once I got started, it all came back to me,” she says.
This same commission allowed Annabel to dabble with a style she never had the courage to attempt until that moment. During her art studies at school, she mainly drew and painted landscapes. This, she says, often led to frustration. “Certain scenes, especially buildings, require a certain level of detail and accuracy – I felt they had to be perfect to be good. I was scared to paint freely, but the first time I painted for this client, I did so without looking at anything, and it was a great feeling. From then on, I simply painted whatever I felt like expressing at the time.”
Instinctively, her first works revolved around a blue palette. It reflected her shared love for the colour and for the sea, and as these two elements came together, it started playing out in her work. “The colour I chose to experiment with first is turquoise – it has a calming effect on me, and I found it very difficult to move away from for a while. I recently started experimenting with pink, and I’m liking the direction.”
Her interest and curiosity in abstract art drew Annabel to resin painting, and her source of inspiration, an Australian resin artist. “I wanted to find out how artists manage to achieve such a fluid effect, and discovered resin painting. I met an Australian artist at a time when I was very unsure about what I wanted to do with my life, and after seeing his work, I wanted to learn how he did it. After lots of experimentation, trial and error, I finally started to achieve the look and style I was after, and every week, I learned something new about the media I worked with.”
Initially, Annabel explains that she worked only with acrylic paint, and later, tried out ink, oil, chalk and a selection of other materials, figuring out what works and what doesn’t along the way. Working with resin was also an experiment in itself. “It’s a hot material, used for boats and floors, and dries quite quickly,” she explains.
The molten, fluid effect in her paintings is fuelled by chemical reactions between all the components in a single piece. For instance, when white is layered on top of a darker colour, it rises to the surface, sometimes creating a feathered effect. Similarly, gold doesn’t blend as easily. “I learned how different materials behave together purely through experimentation, and generally use either of two techniques: mixed media with water or mixed media with resin.”
Last year, Annabel also launched a line of décor, starting with a collection of stools. “Since the beginning, I knew I’d want to try my hand at making and working with furniture, it’s something I’ve long had an interest in,” says Annabel.
In the run up to her upcoming exhibition to be held at Palazzo De Piro in Mdina in May, Annabel is spending two months in Italy for a change of scenery, to rediscover the joy of and patience required for drawing techniques, and also to work with a carpenter in order to learn the art of wood-working. And while she’s keen to learn new skills and how to work with different media, she also doesn’t want to rush.
“I like using my creativity to produce anything that interests me, without limiting myself to paintings. Besides experimenting with furniture, I also launched my prints last year, which was a big deal for me as I had to learn to take photos of my work. Rather than shooting whole paintings though, I focus on details within the paintings, ones that often get lost in the sea of colours but that could really stand alone. However, I don’t want to rush. I’m taking my time to develop, first and foremost as an artist, and I still have a lot to learn.”
This is a snippet. Read the full interview on the latest issue of Commercial Courier.