Interview: Steven Scicluna

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Following the [Issue 8] interview with London-based illustrator Chris Bianchi, REDWHITEmt brings you yet another Maltese, London-based graphic designer and illustrator Steven Scicluna, who goes by the name of Lefty Le Mur.

Ever since leaving Malta, Steven has lived in Glasgow, Valencia, Kent and now seems to have settled in London. The constant change of location is instantly evident in his work, which, although has developed throughout his artistic career, certain key elements never change; raw, urban, texture, hand-drawn typography and a skillful ability to exploit and manipulate mark-making media are what identify and what make Steven Scicluna’s work stand-out from the others.

Steven has recently launched his website here.

You say your major interests include ‘anthropology, typography, linguistics, staring at complex maps and star/moon gazing on clear nights.’ How do you go about reflecting these elements into your own work?

My work – actually probably anyone’s work – is a reaction to whatever makes me tick creatively. I am massively turned on by human culture in all it’s varieties… all the possible ways in which different lines become different letters and can be used to communicate, geographical influence on a culture, the ways in which colour is used to transmit different messages, cultural semiotics and especially what happens when two cultures meet and become something else. I think it’s this sense of semiotic (codes) layering and visual juxtaposition which ultimately makes it through to my work. I like to think that my work acts as a melting pot of visual cultures.

On the info page of your website there is a link to your last.fm account. How does music play a role in your artwork?

Music plays a very big role in my work. I use music as a way to extract the influences I need for a particular work whilst working. Music is, I guess, the fastest and most immediate way of zoning in on a particular sentiment or to transport you to another place – mentally, culturally, geographically or even historically. For example, a project I’m working on now is being greatly influenced by all this dub music that I’ve been listening to recently. On the other hand, another project I did about the north of Scotland involved heavy late night doses of ambient music like Biosphere and Tim Hecker.

Are there any particular local artists and designers that you admire?

Off the top of my head – Thom Cushcieri has been turning out some refreshingly witty comic strips recently, Marco Scerri has always been in my opinion probably Malta’s most accomplished graphic designer (and more recently a photographer), Porridge Creative‘s highly stylistic yet professional design work ethic is one of the very few examples of homegrown design talent at its best and I have to mention my sister Denise Scicluna who I think has been doing some very valid photography and illustration work over these past few years. Oh and I thought the video for Skimmed was really really good.

What would be your perfect brief?

Probably some travelling brief in which my job would be to document different visual cultural styles along the way and then produce a book or a series of prints about it.

How have your main sources of inspiration, as well as your creative process shifted once you have started living abroad?

My sources of inspiration have definitely changed since moving abroad. For starters I was incredibly frustrated with the whole creative scene in Malta at the time and I also had this big yearning to go spend some time abroad and those were probably my greatest sources of inspiration when I was living in Malta. Once away from Malta I found myself doing much more graffiti than I had ever done before due to legal walls, the sudden freedom which I found myself in and the availability of spray paint and all these things which were not yet available in Malta at the time (yet which are now thankfully available). I’ve noticed that the size of my artworks has also shrinked in size, probably following an equally sizeable reduction of living space here. Another undeniable influence is the amount of people from different nationalities I’ve encountered here in the UK. Apart from that I think that my creative process is still pretty much the same as how it was 4 years ago.

You have attended both a Maltese and an English art & design institution, would you say there is a drastic difference in the education system? How about similarities?

The only similarities between MCAST Art & Design and UCA (my UK university) would be that MCAST follows a British course structure which makes both institutions fairly similar in the grading system but that’s as far as it goes. On the other hand the differences are not many yet they are drastic. Facilities at uni such as printmaking and the library were well equipped and readily available.. a marked contrast from MCAST who actually had a semi-decent printmaking department but for some incomprehensible reason denied its facilities to us graphic design students back when I was there. Lecturers at UCA are generally seasoned practitioners who are much more up to date with creative scenes and trends unlike their MCAST equivalents. While UCA was far from a perfect uni, it’s this sense of professionalism, experience and connectivity with the real and wider creative world which is so sorely missing from most creative institutions in Malta.

Malta is seeing an increasing number of design students leaving to study and work abroad. What, in your opinion, is the number one reason that is driving talented individuals out of Malta?

There must be various reasons for this and that includes our country’s limited size and in turn our limited job possibilities, creative muscle and various other limitations. But I think that apart of all of this, the one thing which drives creatives nuts in Malta is the impenetrable wall of tradition which the old guard puts up. In my experience I found this atmosphere to be incredibly stifling and limiting. The reasons are many, but let’s just say that a close-to-30 year old government and some old guy in a tunic aren’t really helping. I’m elated to see that cracks ARE starting to show in the system, the introduction of divorce being the deepest one of them of course. It’s also great to see that Malta’s arts scene is more vibrant than it has ever been before. And that actually is, I think, a good thing to finish off this last question with.

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