The artist’s style has been described as “Caravaggio meets Manga”—dark, vivid, yet vaguely cartoonish. Micallef compares his work to “watching a Disney movie which slowly turns into violent pornography.” In his new show at Lazarides (where he made his solo debut in 2006), it’s fair to say that the Disney aspect is missing.
Micallef’s self-portraits, primarily oils on French linen, are far from complimentary—an observation that’s especially intriguing when you realize that the artist himself is youthful and conventionally attractive. Instead, the paintings are vicious, and at times, vaguely terrifying. The works in “Self” range from thickly impastoed faces comprised of swirls of color—skin tones, blacks, whites, and primary colors—to aggressive black-and-white compositions depicting couples in embrace, covered with scrawling marks that appear to have been carved into the canvases. The works evoke intense emotions, from rage to love, and simultaneously through rich, lush brushstrokes, display Micallef’s keen ability to maneuver paint. While most of the works are given simple titles, like Self Portrait on Yellow (all works 2015) or Self Portrait with Horn, others, like Self Portrait (Tyrant in Red and Gray) set forth more explicitly his perspective on himself, and his larger critique of the ego-stroking “selfies” so prevalent in contemporary culture.
As an artist, Micallef can be devastatingly incendiary. He made the news in London last year when his Pop Idol painting of Jesus, portraying a bound Christ standing before a reality show-style jury, was rejected by Transport for London—the work was was supposed to appear on tube platforms during Lent. But it’s evident through his latest pieces that the artist looks most harshly at himself. “I’m trying to create a sensual body that emanates a soul or some kind of embodiment of human emotion,” Micallef has said. “I want to say it all with the actual medium this time without illustrating it. I wanted the luscious density of the paint itself to describe the feeling without narrating it.”