In February 2015, Lazarides Rathbone welcomes back Antony Micallef to its ground floor gallery with a major new exhibition entitled Self. In an era when the selfie is ubiquitous, his long-awaited solo return unveils a series of energetic self-portraits on canvas and paper, presenting the ultimate commentary on this contemporary norm.
Self makes a clean break in style and language from his earlier series Impure Idols (2007), Becoming Animal (2009) and Happy Deep Inside My Heart (2011). Stripping away the excess prevalent in this earlier work, Micallef has parted ways with the colourful pop language that dominated these previous series in exchange for a set of self-scrutinizing works that turns the looking glass upon himself and his medium. Having painted his own self portrait for the last 20 years, Micallef’s new body of work returns to something more visceral and honest, serving as a reflection of his personal journey as an artist.
The paradoxical notion that the self can be uncovered through the most narcissistic of gestures is explored through his relationship with the paint. The self-analytical dialogue is enacted through mark-making, the artist’s hands and brush carefully constructing layer by layer in a vicious attack of the canvas. Set against Rembrandt-like backdrops of pastel and colourfully marbled hues, thick brushstrokes overlap, bleed and fuse into one another constituting a unique and authentic persona. This painterly snapshot of ego is laid bare for his audience to question and dissect purely through the multiple layers and heavy concentration of his medium. “I’m trying to create a sensual body that emanates a soul or some kind of embodiment of human emotion. I want to say it all with the actual medium this time without illustrating it. I wanted the luscious density of the paint itself to describe the feeling without narrating it.”
Antony Micallef’s ultimate self-portrait, Self subverts the selfie paradox and presents a wiser artist in deep reflection.
Ruminating on the transformational trajectory that has coloured his career, Micallef explains:
“William Blake said that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom – you never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough. I became the very thing I was painting about without me realizing. I morphed into this world of excess and it completely took over. This is my way of stripping it right back and getting back to the basics. In this age of self-glorification and self-promotion, we advertise ourselves like a shop window. Every shot on social media is carefully choreographed to send out a message of how we want to be perceived. I feel with this work I’ve stripped away the veneer and showed what lies beneath.”
Antony Micallef lives and works in London, exhibiting in solo and group showcases worldwide in locations including Los Angeles, London, New York and Tokyo. The British artist studied under John Virtue, who in turn was taught by the legendary Frank Auerbach, both of which have heavily influenced his passionate approach to painting. Micallef’s contemporary art breakthrough came after being awarded second prize at the National Portrait Gallery’s 2000 BP Portrait Prize, he later went on to make his solo debut It’s A Wonderful World with Lazarides in 2006, quickly followed by his sold-out 2007 Hollywood showcase Impure Idols.
Micallef’s works were later shown at Lazarides’ 2008 pop-up group spectacular The Outsiders, New York. The previous year the highly acclaimed artist was commissioned to create travelling exhibition, Journey, in association with the UN, the Mayor of New York’s Office, Emma Thompson and the Roddick Foundation. From November 2008 to January 2009, Antony Micallef’s outdoor sculptures and painting took prominent positions at the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens as part of GSK Contemporary. Exhibitions that followed included group showcases at the Royal Academy, Tate Britain, Lazarides’ Eurotrash in June 2010 as well as Hells Half Acre in 2011. The following year saw Micallef contributing works to Lazarides Bedlam, held at The Old Vic Tunnels, as well as London’s Institute of Contemporary Art’s Peace One Day group exhibition.
Previous sold-out solo exhibitions include 2009’s Becoming Animal and most recently 2011’s Happy Deep Inside My Heart at Lazarides’ flagship Fitzrovia space. Over the past year Micallef has exhibited in Lazarides’ off-site group showcase BRUTAL, contributed artwork to Art Below’s public art initiative and Dallas Contemporary’s MTV RE:DEFINE charity auction.