What do an albatross, Orion’s belt and the northern lights have in common?
To most people, probably not a whole lot. But for me, these are just some of the subjects that found their way into an art book. A book that I created and co-wrote with the person I also share my life with. Cosmic Nature is something of an art catalogue, an inspirational log and a wandering mind, all encompassed into one small softcover.
I’ve painted in several “series” over the years, but this latest theme has stuck around for a good while longer than the others. So when I had no studio to work in for a month, I had to find creative ways to keep up my motivation and to keep creating. A book was the perfect place for me to spill out the ideas of each painting: some ideas that existed before I put paint to canvas, and other ideas that emerged after the works were done.
I’m a little bit addicted to the night sky. I’ll stop mid-sentence to look up at the stars, have watched Brian Cox documentaries more times than I can count and keep sharing my stargazing app with family and friends I had no idea would be interested.
I’ve always found it quite difficult to express myself out loud, which is probably the same for a lot of painters out there. I’m also not great at sharing my passion and my inspirations out loud, preferring to do so on paper to avoid public speaking. I have a writing background: I spent my childhood writing short stories, poems, diaries and more, illustrating the covers (even down to the bar codes), so turning my ideas from canvas into printed words just made sense. Now I had a medium where I could summarise everything that had emerged on the canvas, as well as open a window into the world of the wonders inside my head. Almost everyone I meet is at least a little bit intrigued by space, and this inspired me to continue with this project.
The book starts with my most beloved painting of my favourite animal. It is of course the albatross. The majestic mating dance of the Laysan albatross is something I’d wanted to capture in paint for a while, but never quite succeeded. But with a column of the Milky Way, the stage was set for them to dance.
Animals appear frequently in the book, as they do in all my paintings. Sometimes they’re in real habitats like bison in the Arctic. Other times, I’ve mixed inspiration from my travels with scenes I’ve yet to see, such as the winter starlings wheeling across a Roman sky.
I’m always looking for nature, whether I’m in the middle of Rome, Florence or even Valletta, Malta’s capital city (my island home). My ears strain for birdsong, and I always feel like I’m on my own little dog safari when I travel. I’m fascinated by the different breeds and different habits of dogs in other countries and cities: it says a lot about their owners too. Small, well behaved apartment-dwellers, shaggy-coated, rugged outdoor types, even a few Salukis, no doubt with Prada-carrying owners.
Some scenes are far more fantastical. I have a childish enthusiasm for small animals, so it was inevitable that my own guinea pig ended floating in her own surreal cosmic background.
Sometimes, I like to look at the world from a childlike, or perhaps animal-like point of view. What must it feel like? What does it look like from up there? How did they do that? Cosmic Nature is full of wondering, of questioning perhaps without wanting to know the answers, but just experiencing the joy of asking.
Then there’s stunning Patagonia, the landscape that I fell in love with on my honeymoon. A land of the most beautiful tipped-over hills, white skeletal trees, stunted shrubs and a most hauntingly beautiful…silence. The subjects I want to paint the most are always the hardest to execute, but once I embraced the challenge, this painting was done and immediately I felt relieved, peaceful and proud. I now had a little corner of Patagonia all to myself, all over again. The comet was imaginary though, but I wonder if it would have made a sound?
This book is the result of almost four years of work, over 40 oil and watercolour paintings and a few hundred thumbnail sketches, ideas, colour swatches and failed attempts. Painting this series, publishing it in book form for the masses and now developing the series further has helped me to understand what drives me to paint, and to pursue the weird and wonderful ideas that I love. Never, ever be afraid to paint what you love. If you can show your audience why you love it, they will love it too!
From David Attenborough to mesmerising songs, whimsical ideas and silent landscapes, this is Cosmic Nature.
Here’s a run-down of some of the main materials and references used to create the paintings and the final book.