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Paul Cosquieri: “Art in Gibraltar could be headed for a Renaissance”

Paul Cosquieri, president of the Gibraltar Fine Arts Association, gives the inside scoop on what’s happening in Gibraltar’s “vibrant” art scene 

By New Statesman

Tell us about the story behind the Gibraltar Fine Arts Association. When was it set up, and why?

The Gibraltar Fine Arts Association was started in 1998 following a request by the Gibraltar Ministry of Culture.

However, the association’s roots really go back to around 1954, with the formation of The Calpe Artists Society. This society organised exhibitions every year, including the first International Painting Competition in 1962.

What does the association do?

The main objective of the association is to be the representative body of people in Gibraltar engaged in fine arts, and to encourage the appreciation of fine arts. This includes organising exhibitions and fostering links with businesses, educational establishments and the general public – and also with artists and fine arts associations from other countries.

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What is the art scene like in Gibraltar? Are there many working artists? 

The art scene in Gibraltar is extremely vibrant, especially considering the size of Gibraltar’s population, which is around just 30,000. There are a large variety of artists currently working on the Rock, and there is quite a growing buzz around the Fine Arts Association.

What facilities and events currently exist to support the arts in Gibraltar?

At present, there are three or four main galleries. The Fine Arts Gallery, which is run by the Fine Arts Association, is one of them. It not only serves as a gallery, but is also the central hub of art-related activities in Gibraltar.

The gallery holds numerous temporary exhibitions run by the association, such as the Affordable Art Show, the summer show and the national week exhibition. It also hosts events, such as popular weekly life drawing classes.

Apart from this, the Ministry of Culture and Gibraltar Cultural Services also organise three main annual Art competitions: the International Art Competition, which is open to all, the Spring Festival competition, which is open to local residents, and the Young Artists Competition aimed at local young artists.

One of the association’s current aims is to take local art abroad, so we are currently looking at ways of organising collective exhibitions of local artists in the major art fairs. The association is also looking at fostering new links with the British Arts Council.

What are some of the challenges facing artists in Gibraltar, and what is being done to address these challenges?

One of the pressing issues is the lack of studio spaces and resources available for artists to properly develop their work. On top of that, there a need to set up a local art centre where artists can explore and develop different art “crafts” such as pottery, ceramics, sculpture and printing amongst others. 

The association works closely with the Ministry of Culture and Gibraltar Cultural Services to foster the development of art in Gibraltar. The present administration is showing positive signs of having the necessary political will to properly support the future development of the arts in Gibraltar. One example is the recent opening of the new contemporary art gallery (GEMA), which aims at developing contemporary art locally by holding exhibitions of international artists in Gibraltar, and also including Gibraltarian contemporary artists in exhibitions abroad.

What does Gibraltarian art look like? Are there some dominant themes local artists are exploring? 

Broadly speaking, the art currently produced in Gibraltar is primarily conservative in nature. I personally believe this is due to the size of the population, alongside a classically Gibraltarian mindset which thrives on maintaining a tight “unit” at the expense of individuality. This need for self-protection is more conducive to fostering a safer art style and market.

This said, there is a small group of local artists emanating from the Fine Arts Association who are open to wider influences both from Spanish, British and international art. There is also a trend of approaching art not only as an aesthetic practice, but as a much wider social tool or even a weapon.

Local Berlin-based artist Francis Gomila is a prime example of this – his recent conceptual contribution to the Contemporary Art Conference will no doubt serve to plant many inquisitive seeds in the minds of local artists. It is also worth mentioning the huge impact made in the both the Gibraltarian and international art scene by local portrait artist Christian Hook, who recently won the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition

[Above: Francis Gomila’s 1997 installation “Cargo”, staged on both shores of the Strait of Gibraltar] 

You are an artist yourself. How has your work developed?

I am a native Gibraltarian who studied art at the Chelsea School of Art in London and later went on to pursue a degree in graphic design. My work can be described as exploratory – for instance, my explorations into the shape and form of the Rock of Gibraltar (primarily the North Face of the Rock) as characterised by my “Between the Rock and a Hard Place” series. This series derived from my love of the imposing shape and form of the Rock’s North Face, which has loomed over me since childhood. This form served as a foundation for my more abstract ventures into the plasticity and texture of paint and other materials.

And finally, would you like to see the profile of Gibraltarian art raised in your lifetime?

I believe that Gibraltarian art, led by the Fine Arts Association and in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Agency, is at a crucial crossroads in its development. With the right conditions, political will and support, art in Gibraltar could be heading towards a new Renaissance.