Locals will know this artist for his bold, provocative, large-scale paintings depicting violence and sex in Maltese culture. Ryan Falzon’s body of work “We Lost The War” was first unveiled to eyes at Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta in 2017.
Now it’s in Berlin, for his first German solo exhibition.
Video courtesy of Maltarti: Ryan Falzon’s exhibition goes to Berlin
Retitled as “Fritz ist Amerikanisch”, the work is a stark, colour-saturated depiction of societal decay – an ode to the darkness lurking beneath the sunny Mediterranean aura of the islands.
It’s the result of Falzon’s fascination of how politics and religion mould society – with Malta as the core focus.
“You really need to understand the political context of Malta to understand the work,” Falzon said. “Every society is based on politics and religion – but Malta is very, very particular. The way religion is used, our festas, hunting culture, the fact that politics is very accessible to everyone. It’s a mix of sacred and profane.”
What threads the works together is that Maltese exaggeration.
“These paintings were created during a rat race period. Malta was an economic boom, gearing for the Capital of Culture in 2018 – there was a sense of extravagance roaming the island,” Falzon explained.
Now, it’s been contextualised for the Berlin show at OKK/Raum 29 – an artist-run experimental platform for cultural activism.
Falzon’s format of choice is the painting collage with written text – a clear ode to New York artist Jean-Michel Basquait but made entirely his own.
The fluid style parallels the mix of cultures that add to Malta’s rich history – pop iconography, be it religious, populist or local kitch, is all given equal importance.
From Maltese man-caves, hunters to mafia legends or a Maltese wedding (in hell), Falzon, a figure in the local art scene for a decade, explores violence in its many forms: in politics, culture and our own consciousness.
“Back in 2017, I did receive sceptic comments that all the display of violence in the paintings, that it was just misogyny on display and triumph to the patriarchy, that the social commentary was all made-up tales,” Falzon recalled.
“But this truly is a period in which series of car bombs and execution-style murders between hardened criminals ensued, possible a drug-related turf war.”
Three years later, “Fritz ist Amerikanisch”, the name connected to his Berlin travels and discussions of American influence in West Berlin, is as relevant as ever.
“The main challenge here was giving a context to the paintings,” curator Michael Fenech said on the Germany show.
“The works are very much grounded in a Mediterranean environment, and we had to keep that in mind – audiences would be lacking visual references such as Malta’s bombastic Baroque motifs, the marc after the religious ceremony, local mancaves and all the flash on display.”
To provide that local context, there’s a video feature on Maltese culture, together with an interview with Falzon, on loop at the gallery.
Of course, COVID-19 presented further challenges. The pandemic meant that Falzon and Fenech weren’t entirely sure whether they would be able to attend or have an opening night while shipping logistics were a concern too.
Luckily, Falzon’s solo Berlin debut went off without a hitch. You can go see the exhibition in person yourself – it’s on until the 15th of November.