Maltese Artist Will Make You Rethink Nature With These Bone Sculptures

How fried chicken take-away inspired the dark horse of Malta’s arts scene

1  Acherontia Atropos Death’S Head Hawk Moth

Known for his striking sculptures made out of discarded junk and animal bones, the dark horse of the Maltese visual arts scene, John Paul Azzopardi, is back with a new showcase at the Natural History Museum in Mdina.

Both creepy and beautiful, his show-stopping interpretation of the Death’s-head Hawk-moth will be on display until August 31, as the centerpiece for the exhibition ‘What One Sees Is What One Is’. 

2  Acherontia Atropos Death’S Head Hawk Moth Section

Acherontia atropos (Death’s-head Hawk moth) by John Paul Azzopardi (detail)

Constructed out of carefully assembled pieces of tiny animal bones, ‘A (Re) Presentation of Acherontia atropos (Death’s-head Hawk moth)’ invites viewers to contemplate the natural world in a different way.

By making the moth a little less familiar, Azzopardi hopes that those viewing the piece will take the time to appreciate the complexity and variety of nature.

Azzopardi filled us in on how he sets about creating these ominous but delicate bone sculptures.... and it's a process whose chemical doo-hickery will bring to mind the nefarious deeds of Walter White. 

3  Study Detail From D  Mylius Opus Medico Chymicum

Study Detail from D. Mylius Opus Medico-Chymicum by John Paul Azzopardi

“The structure is extremely delicate in the beginning until there is a web like construction that supports the outer part of the form. The process is very long and I obviously have to be very patient. I glue the bones together with a fast setting glue and once the sculpture is ready I coat it with several layers of resin with a paint brush. Usually a sculpture can take from six to eight weeks to… well, the longest was six months.”

Walter White

“Once I have a good batch of bones; I boil them for a few hours, drain the water and start removing the meat and fat from the bones.  Then I put them in a container filled with a chemical to clean and bleach them, also to destroy the bone marrow. After a few days I take them out and leave them to dry in the sun.” 

5  Study Of Haeckels Vampyrus

Study of Haeckels Vampyrus by John Paul Azzopardi

7  Untitled No 2

Untitled No 2 by John Paul Azzopardi

8  Untitled No 4

Untitled No 4 by John Paul Azzopardi

9  Untitled No 5

Untitled No 5 by John Paul Azzopardi

Azzopardi first caught on to the idea of using discarded objects for sculptures during childhood. While his family were living in Hackney Wick, London, his father had brought home a rusty ornate shelve unit. At first bemused by this, Azzopardi was later impressed to see how his father managed to restore the discarded item into something beautiful.

But it was living next to a fried chicken take-away place in another part of London that triggered the bone sculptures. Azzopardi had no problem with rooting through the restaurants boxes of leftovers – “Luckily, back then I used to drink and smoke a lot so I didn’t think twice about it!” – and started to incorporate the bones into his mixed media works.

Since 2009, however, Azzopardi started using the bones for entire sculptures too, for a particular conceptual purpose.

“These bone constructs refer to the metaphorical notion of temporarily killing one’s rational and busy persona and to delve within one’s deeper level of being, where the space created between the bones refers to an architectural silence, a silence every being can relate to.”

‘What One Sees Is What One Is’ will remain on display at the Natural History Museum, Mdina until August 31. Admission fee to the museum applies. Photography by Peter Bartolo Parnis

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16  Samskara Burn No1 Detail

Samskara Burn No 1 (detail) by John Paul Azzopardi

13  Burn No 2 Main Shot Jpazzopardi Sculpure Bricolage112 Pbp 366

Burn No 2 by John Azzopardi

12  Dawkins Fundamentalism Trickster 2009

Dawkins Fundamentalism: Trickster by John Paul Azzopardi