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June 26, 2019 – Published in Design & Decor Summer 2019 issue

La Vie En Rose – James Vella Clark

In Édith Piaf’s most celebrated song “La Vie En Rose”, the French singer elevates pink above its obvious colour status to the colour of a lens through which we sometimes choose to look at life around us, to escape the stark realities. And what is art if not a means of escape from the mundane?

And if escapism had a colour, for expressionist artist James Vella Clark, that colour would definitely, especially at this point in time, be pink.

Fresh from his latest solo exhibition ‘Convergence’ at Palazzo de la Salle three months ago, James Vella Clark explains how the exhibition consisted of a collection of forty abstract works that spanned a decade, from his earlier examples executed in 2008 and 2009 to the more recent canvasses completed in January, just days before the exhibition opening.

“I have always been better known for my expressionist landscapes. And although I never stopped painting landscapes, these too kept becoming gradually more abstract. In fact, I very much believe that the abstract work I am producing now is a natural consequence of my landscapes. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if my landscapes had not existed.”

‘Convergence’ was organised across 4 halls with works hanging in chronological order in a way that offered a physical walk through the evolution of the artist’s abstract idiom over the past decade. The last hall, in which were exhibited the most recent works, was dominated by pink abstracts. The largest piece, towering the show at 255cm x 140cm, was a canvas in a variation of pinks and light purples entitled ‘Dvorak’.

“Pink is obtained by muting red with white. In actual fact, you are pitting what is potentially the most powerful, assertive colour against all the colours in the entire spectrum, including red itself. But, beyond the science of colour, people often stop at the usual connotations and qualities commonly associated with pink, such as softness, fragility and femininity. I, on the other hand, am finding pink increasingly assertive.

“Inevitably, the question as to ‘what got me into pinks’ became a recurring one. But it did set me thinking, because not even I was sure of the answer. In fact, I never really paid attention to the first times I started introducing pink in my work. These are things that you just gloss over, especially when it concerns your own work, which, as its author, you’re bound to take for granted. But as I sat back and looked at how my more recent abstracts were evolving, especially in view of the exhibition I was working for, I started noticing an increasing affinity to pink.

“At first it happened sporadically and in an unplanned manner. It’s hard to explain, but, somehow, it felt like the most natural colour to turn to. It’s true that many associate pink with softness or lack of assertiveness, but I have discovered a very particular strength in its use. In truth, I confirmed that the possibilities, when it comes to colour combinations, are endless.

“But I do remember how once, whilst watching a documentary about northern Italy, there was this brief but very particular shot from a drone camera of a small village with its terracotta rooftops glowing in the sunrise. The immediate imagery in my head was pink and yellows. It only lasted a second or two, but it was enough to leave a lasting imprint which I had to bring out on canvas. I was curious and wanted to replicate that moment. It was enough to get me started in my exploration of the combination of the two colours put together. The first result was ‘Pink Sunrise’, a small piece which, eventually, and naturally, had to form part of my exhibition.

“Pink became a staple colour in the months preceding the exhibition, and what started off as an experiment, has now developed into a veritable fixation. Works like ‘Indecision’, ‘The Heart in the Right Place’, ‘Chopin’, ‘Dvorak’ and, eventually, ‘Convergence’, were the prime results of this. The latter was titled so, because I felt it brought together all the ideas I had been trying to assimilate over the years. It felt like everything finally started making sense.”

Could La Vie En Rose, therefore, be ushering a new chapter in his artistic journey?

“Most times, we tend to consider an exhibition as the culmination of a process or a sort of exercise in closure. An artist builds a body of work, a collection of artworks, and shows them. In my case, this latest exhibition was far from a concluding formality, but felt rather like the start of something, which from what I have been gathering over these last months, is bound to become a more engaging proposition. All I know is that, right now, I’m in a good place in my life, the energy is a good one and the best way to say it is in pinks. But, really and truly, as long as I’m painting, life will always be pink.”

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