Other Places by Burlò

Sebastian Tanti Burlo speaks to VAMP Editor Hannah Cremona about his latest exhibition, Other Places, in a rendezvous that sparks contemplation on our existence in the spaces we occupy.

Words by Hannah Cremona

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Sebastian Tanti Burlo.
Photo courtesy of Simon Burlo.

Seb is no stranger to me. We were brought up together, I even took his hand-me-downs (yes I was a tomboy most days); in hindsight the start of ‘sustainable living’ and timelessness. His expression through art has grown with me in many ways, sometimes to provoke other times to dream. Within a socio-political context, he raises current issues as he sees them through his tools. Seb’s upcoming exhibition Other Places raises questions of our existence through fairy tale scenes.

Growing up, I would see Seb study his father’s works. His father, Maurice Tanti Burlo, is a celebrated artist and cartoonist, with over 37 years as a political cartoonist. They would discuss the weekly political happenings and translate this onto their paper.

I could see the progression of Seb’s work unfold over the years. I was somehow able to tell when he’s fuelled with anger at a situation or when he’s immersed with joyful moments and serenity. I saw it in his brush or pen strokes.

Today, I sit with him, across the screen, with nostalgia; discovering another side and style to his art, emotions and expression of thoughts – different to the stark realities presented through his political cartoons. It’s nothing new for us to hop on a video call to discuss what’s going on around us and in Malta in particular.

His new series, Other Places, takes me back to our childhood, to the values instilled in us through our upbringing, and to recent places and the memories they hold for us.

One of the paintings, in particular, illustrates a conspicuous yet hidden scene within my neighbourhood in Kathmandu. “Han, it’s that beautiful tree I saw on the way to your house, it’s coming out of a tiny Hindu temple,” he pointed out. “It’s just there, in the middle of the road!”

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“It was a flash as we passed by sitting on the back of a motorbike. It’s hard to tell if the temple was built and the tree took over or vice versa. It was just a glimpse, a place of worship, engulfed by the trunk of the tree. Quite a beautiful relationship between man’s construction and nature.”

A lot of the spaces featured in this series are influenced by places in Nepal, America and various locations in Europe depicting the plants and trees and the way people live. “Since my architectural studies, I was always interested in the relationship between the constructed habitat existing within the natural habitat.” 

The series is bound by a relationship between medium and material, with all scenes executed in watercolour paint on old uniformly sized government-issued typewriter paper. “The paper dictated the work. I like the way it handles the pen and the way the colour runs off it. The watercolour created fairy tale washes that opened up the stories.”

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Other Places offers viewers a series of visual stories that resist conclusion, challenging them to discover their own position within the diverse places they occupy. “As a citizen, a person participating in society, the ideas within my work, even fairy tale illustrations are based on my take of what’s going on in and around me. My engagement is a socio-political commentary, a vehicle for putting my considerations across.”

Seb continues to say that this fairytale-like series is open to interpretation. “I’m not too precious about telling you what it is that I’m trying to say through these paintings.” It aims to encourage one’s questioning about their surroundings and how they co-habitat within that space. “There’s no right or wrong answer,” he adds. “Questioning oneself is more important more than finding the answers themselves,” a self-practice I also believe important to bring about conscious living.

“Painting brings me into a meditative state. I am questioning myself through the work to the point that I’m blank and it’s in this space that the work leads. It’s a process of internal questioning… I guess.”

We continued to talk about how man could live with nature in equilibrium. “There are proven ways we can, and we have for centuries. We developed because of nature. In today’s world we need to make conscious effort to bring ourselves back to a relationship with nature, and be in balance. We are out of sync with it. We are alienated and detached from it.”

“It could also be – the only way to find balance is where nature will force our hand, forcing us to resettle and find balance. Which is what nature is already doing. Globalisation, as it stands, is collapsing … a cold has the ability to topple the global economy. We are in a situation where people don’t want to shake hands.”

“We have removed ourselves… We are smart creatures; we should be able to find our way back home eventually, that is, if we really want to.”

We end our chat with an encounter Seb had the same morning we spoke. A farmer told him, “The packaging of a head of lettuce is more expensive than the lettuce itself!”

“… we are that detached.”

“Again – the paintings in Other Places could also be just silly fairy tale drawings… and just that. Places that never exist, or never come to be.”

Other Places, an exhibition by Sebastian Tanti Burlò, curated by Ann Dingli, will open on 14th March 2020 at 48, Melita Street, Valletta.

Sebastian Tanti Burlò is a political cartoonist and artist, currently based on the Island of Malta. His work combines current affairs, art, writing and ink to create a socio-commentary of today’s times.
Follow his works on facebook @burlò
Website https://www.sebtantiburlo.com/

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