Gulja Holland is a Maltese portraiture artist based in London and Malta. She describes her paintings as experimental and vibrant, and her recent work explores the gap between painting and photography. Holland is fascinated by the way that painting and photography provide the viewer with a clarity and distortion which are unique to their medium, and how a combination of one can influence the reading of the other.
When and how did you get started?
I remember it being the only thing I excelled at school at a young age and I think the encouragement I received both at school and at home helped me turn my passion for art into a career. My years spent studying art in the UK have been pivotal in helping me develop a style and narrative.
What genre do you consider your work to be?
Neo expressionist although people site Pop Art upon seeing my recent work in the way that I like to repeat a source image and make use of bold block colours.
Describe your work in 10 words or less.
Expressive, layered, fluid, vibrant, conceptual, experimental.
Where was your first exhibition held?
My first solo exhibition was held in 2016 at The Maritime Museum, Birgu
Do you have a favourite from among your own artworks? If so, why?
I have favourites for different reasons. The ‘Human Shields’ series of paintings were made during my time at Leeds College of Art when I chanced upon an image of a child victim of The Gaza Strip conflict on the internet. I was aware at how desensitised I’d become to even the most graphic of news images and wanted to recreate the victim’s portrait in a way that encouraged a more compassionate reading. I feel that the series showcases my strongest works to date in terms of both execution and technical ability.
In terms of style however, I think My Altered Egos series of works are more unique and memorable.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve started developing a new body of work; photo-paintings which develop on the Altered Egos series in style and theme. It’s still early stages but I’ll be sure to share my progress in the coming months through my Facebook page and Instagram account.
Which artist’s work are you most inspired by?
Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Marlene Dumas, Luc Tuymans, Andy Warhol and Arnulf Rainer
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
A portrait photographer.
What is the epitome of happiness for you?
Having a healthy and happy life first and foremost. But it’s also very important to me to have a rewarding and satisfying career which doesn’t feel like a job.
What brought you back to Malta?
I recently moved back down to Malta following a year in London. During that time, I completed a course in photography at the London Institute of Photography and assisted a still-life photographer for a couple of months which was great, but I stopped painting altogether for one reason or another. I think London is a great place to be if you want to achieve status as an artist, but you have to be so focused and clear about who you are and what you want to push forward with. I still feel that at this stage in my life Malta is a great place to be because it allows me to experiment with different mediums and hone in on my voice as an artist by engaging in different projects.
What do you love about Malta?
The familiarity of it. I have most of my family and friends here and I love this island and the lifestyle it affords me. You can have a great social life even if you don’t live in a busy town and there’s no commute to work. I feel I have much more energy when I’m in Malta and that it’s easy to get involved in different projects. I love the weather of course; light is so important to me as well as whatever little bits of unspoilt beaches, scenery and wildlife we have left.
What do you hate about Malta?
The pollution, the corruption, the traffic, the ugly modern buildings. Malta used to be so beautiful and it still is but more and more of her beauty is found in pockets on the island. I think there’s so much room for improvement with the education system too.
Favourite colour and what it means to you?
Red is a classic favourite because it’s such a powerful colour. It immediately gives life and vitality to a painting although its meaning varies according to the hue and way one uses it.
At the moment I’m a bit obsessed with magenta. It can easily make a painting look decorative, but it can also really give an exciting contemporary flair.
What is your favourite indulgence?
Second to lots of sleep; exploring new countries with a camera in hand.