Antony Micallef is one of the finest painters in the land right now and that’s a fact. A true talent with a paintbrush, Antony’s spent the last year and a half in solitude looking at himself in a mirror and, using his face as a structure and layers upon layers of thick paint, has created his show, ‘Self’, which opens at Lazarides this week where you will find his series of incredible self-portraits. Josh Jones went to his studio to chat. And try not to get paint on his new shoes.
People have compared you to Francis Bacon, is that a blessing or a curse?
I used to hate that comparison, but now it seems like a compliment really. I think I used to hate it because you could never own it – if you smear the face of a portrait then people will say it’s like Francis Bacon, but we’re humans and I can’t not paint a face. As long as it’s not a pastiche of someone; I think you can tell if someone’s stealing marks or techniques, and you can tell if someone’s honest when they’re making work you know? You can’t have a go at someone for smearing a face.
Your technique involves using a lot of paint. Like a LOT. How much more difficult is that?
I’ve always wanted to do what I’ve done in this show, but making the work I do, you can’t really do it half-heartedly. I spent thousands of pounds on paint. With the painting, you can’t just put a bit on, you’ve got to fucking chuck it all on. You can’t do it half way. The nature of painting like this is when you get it right you feel elated, but when you don’t you can’t go back. You have to do it all in one session, when you’re painting heads you’ve got to do it in one hard sitting, which can be four to ten hours. You can’t just come back to it and tweak it the next day. It’s an intense way of working because it will either go really well or really shit. If you scrape stuff off you leave all these shitty marks and because you’re playing with a lot of paint you’ve only got so long to get the marks in before it gets muddy. You’ve got to be in a good mood to do it as well, I started one piece and put some blue marks down and realised I wasn’t ready to work on it and just had to leave it as I would have fucked the background up. You can’t be hungover, you can’t be tired, it can be really physical. With this project I couldn’t sit and paint and chill, I really had to go for it.
Have you noticed your face changing over the years?
I guess it’s more interesting if you’ve got lines or creases or whatever. I remember as I used to paint myself as a kid I would think I looked out of Boyzone or something with a baby face so I used to paint my dad all the time. I use the face as a vehicle, I’m trying to explore things with paint – I want to be known as a painter.
You are known as a painter, but released a bunch of prints through street art pioneers, Pictures On Walls and people thought you were a street artist. Why did you decide to go with them?
There were a lot of factors really, foremost is because of the work and people having the same vision. I really loved it, it was like a little family. That was a time when Bush was in power, Santa’s Ghetto was going on and everyone’s work was political. I made my stuff in charcoal but it was all similar imagery that they were using, so it was all connected in that sense. They were really fun and exciting times and I think everyone just naturally moves on in a way and a style – like singers go on and sing different things, we go on and paint differently. It just evolves, you can’t just stay in one spot. You always find yourself going back to things anyway, I find myself going back to ideas I had years ago.
Did you like being associated with that world?
Yeah I did, I found it really exciting, and it is exciting. I just think everyone goes off and does their own thing. I did get labelled a street artist sometimes but I never went out and did that in my life. Imagine a wall with my work on and how long it would take! It would look like someone had just puked on the wall.
Do you go to your opening nights or sit around the corner in a pub?
I used to do that, I never used to turn up ’til the end, but now I think that there’s a lot of people coming to the show, for instance I’ve got old friends coming up from Brighton to this one and I haven’t seen them for years. Now I think it’s just kind of rude if I don’t turn up. I want to be there the whole time now and speak to all the people that are there and say thanks for coming.