“If you can’t travel to nature, let nature come to you.”
Chloe paints in the spare room of her home in the small and unremarkable town of Hamrun, just a stone’s throw from Malta’s most gentlemanly of cities, Valletta. She has a special corner of this room prepared, with just enough furniture and nicknacks to keep her occupied when she goes up there ‘for a think’.
The ‘studio’ is large, well-lit and with a balcony providing just enough of a glimpse of the world beyond to still feel safe. The artist’s desk is piled high with pots of brushes – some in far better condition than others – and another pot contains an assortment of animal figurines. For selling, one day. But not today.
The room is dominated by bookcases, mostly dedicated to the graphomania of her partner, but just a few choice titles of her own with a stuffed Thylacine for company. Beyond the shelves, the walls are lined with canvases of completed ‘travels’.
At the desk, there’s just enough space between the desk and more stacked canvases for the easel, and the paints themselves sit haphazard upon the floor, within easy reach of the dog and the artist who usually paints balanced on the balls of her feet instead of sitting or standing.
When Chloe starts on a project, she always begins with a pencil, using whatever scrap of paper she can find to begin her initial sketches. A roll of tracing paper is within easy reach when it comes time to transfer to canvas. A tricky maneuver of managing curling paper, canvas and lamplight, but oddly satisfying. A few scribbles on the sketch – what colours, how to paint it, ‘things to remember’…
She shifts to painting, usually in silence. She keeps track of her process to make sure she isn’t going too fast, or too slow. Paint is a delicate master of time.
A woman of habit, who doesn’t admit to the habit, is usually found painting in the few hours before dusk. The space is small, cramped, but functional. There’s plenty of room to step back for a new perspective.
The studio, for all of its disorder upon first inspection, is the space of an owner that loves the neat and tidy, but that seeks her inspiration from having anything sentimental within full view. The artist is not superstitious or indeed religious, but feels an intrinsic value in making connections with nature, the sky and other immaterial items. “Art isn’t about what’s real, it’s about what you have if you have nothing”
As a result, the artist is a woman of surprising humour, a rich knowledge of the intricacies of nature, and a self-confessed addict of all things David Attenborough. Though knowledgeable of these subjects and self-assured in their value, she finds it difficult to talk about art – not because she has few ideas, but that she feels certain ideas must be ‘felt’ and not discussed. To discuss them is to encourage bias. Often times she will stumble through answers, giving a short and often more defensive reply than is intended. “Art should be able to speak for itself when hung.”
The dedication to her art might suggest a personality that is serious and conservative. And in many ways, she is. But Chloe is also a self-confessed child at heart, won over by the smallest of life’s details and dedicated to nature. But she’s no vegan, and no saint. To avoid the sins of the masses is to avoid the issue, not solve it.
Are the hours during the painting process pleasurable?
For the first few hours, and the last few, yes.
Could you say something of this process? When do you work? Do you keep to a strict schedule?
I don’t have a fixed schedule. I don’t make time for art: it makes time for me. I don’t believe in ‘waiting for the muse’ but I don’t fight with my brushes either. When it comes, I’ll be lost for a day. In the meantime, there’s plenty of research, watching, reading, wondering, hoping to be done.
Can you dismiss from your mind whatever project you’re on when you’re away from the easel?
Not so easily. I become obsessed with the idea, if only for a short while. I’ll start to see it in the objects around me, the programs I’m watching, books I’m reading. I’ll wake up thinking about changes.
Do you work on paintings in stages, or can you work on it one month and come back to it in six. What happens when the work is finished?
Occasionally, I’ll work on two at a time, but usually it’s a single painting, a single fixation for the week, month or month it takes me. My painting has slowed down, and what would have taken a week now takes six. When the work is finished, I usually love it more than when I started, even if the result is far from the original idea.
Is emotional stability necessary to paint well? It’s often said that you have to be mad to be an artist.
Having an artistic hand is necessary to paint well, but a madman can have better ideas.
Who would you say are your artistic forebears—those you have learned the most from?
Franz Marc – for helping me find a ‘spirituality’ and a colour to nature that I didn’t see before. For helping me depict the stillness of moving.
Frida Kahlo – all it takes is some dogged determination, good brushes, and possibly a broken womb and a mono-brow. Well I’ve got three out of four, how will that do?
Claude Monet – for showing me what the misty dawn feels like.
David Attenborough – for making me believe that I’ve seen all of the wonders of nature, only to be in total shock and overwhelming amazement in the next scene.
Would you admit to there being symbolism in your novels?
Definitely, but they’re probably more obvious to you than to me.
Could you say how much thought-out effort went into the evolvement of your distinctive style?
I’d say that my style works like the evolutionary tree. You can’t see the changes as they happen, but every so often you’ll find a fossil remarkably different from the last.