The Alchemist of Gozo – John Paul Azzopardi

05 June 2015

Tucked away in the sleepy and nondescript outskirts of Victoria is the studio of John Paul Azzopardi. At 36 Azzopardi has carved a niche for himself on the local art scene and is one of the youngest artists to have a work purchased by the Fine Arts Museum for its permanent display. A great honour certainly, though this has not gone to John Paul’s head.

Untitlled - National Museum of Fine Arts

Untitlled – National Museum of Fine Arts

Azzopardi takes his art seriously – dead seriously. Trained as an electrician but more importantly a graduate in philosophy, his work is complex and replete with references of a mythological, etymological and historic nature. But even if all this tends to go over most peoples’ heads the works themselves are surprisingly accessible – although perhaps disquieting is the more accurate term here.

Azzopardi’s art can best be described as pure alchemy. But whereas the alchemists of old tried in vain to turn various materials into gold, John Paul succeeds in creating bold iconic sculptures out of trash and found objects – not least the detritus of his (mostly abandoned) electrical engineering trade. Born and raised in Hackney before the area became an artists’ hangout, Azzopardi is acutely aware of the direness of his childhood neighbourhood and recalls the neighbours’ searches in the trash for anything of use with some disdain. When his father once picked up a dirty broken shelf the disdain turned to horror. However, he continues to elaborate, he was eventually won over by the loving work that his dad put into the shelf, restoring it to a pristine condition. This single incident probably influenced Azzopardi’s working style more than any other.

Bored Calculator

Bored Calculator

Some of the works in his studio stamp themselves indelibly into my memory. There’s the piece called Bored Calculator, a figure sitting astride a ram representing the mythological Golden Fleece. It is the perfect icon for modern man’s alienation brought on by the rampant technological advances we witness on an almost daily basis. It is constructed of so much diverse stuff; and the figure’s head is a jumble of coloured wires from which the artist marvellously extracts a hauntingly vacant look. Then there is Roman Pig (Back to Front). It’s an unholy fusion of human heart and pig’s face but the piece succeeds so well in portraying greed, decadence and excess that it hardly needs further explanation.

Roman Pig (Back to Front)

Roman Pig (Back to Front)

Azzopardi curiously also works with animal bones – chicken and rabbit bones mostly – out of which he produces his more poetic and perhaps less disturbed work. It is in fact one such work, an untitled piece forming part of his Curved Silence project, which has been acquired by the nation.

John Paul has no immediate exhibition plans but after meeting him on his home turf and listening to his passionate discourse on his art I feel sure the cauldron is simmering and will soon come to the boil. Very soon.

More on John Paul Azzopardi here

Author – Steven Bonello

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